Groups at Counselling Services: What are they, and why try them?

Post by Shahbano Bhatti, third-year Psychology student and Counselling Services Assistant

I’ve always been curious as to how group counselling works,  so I decided to interview Margaret Drewlo, (M.A., Pre-Doctoral Intern,) at Counselling Services to find out more about these programs.

Me: What group programs does Counselling Services offers?

Margaret: We have three groups running on Wednesday evenings:

Mindfulness Stress Management is a group for students who want to develop skills to cope effectively with negative emotions, tolerate distress and develop healthy relationships.

Anxiety Management is a group for students who experience anxiety symptoms physically or cognitively and want to find a long-term solution to manage these symptoms.

Mood Management is a group for students to reduce and manage symptoms of depression.

Students meet with a counsellor prior to determining which resources will be helpful in addressing their concerns and are then referred appropriately.

Me: What is the benefit of attending a group session?

Margaret: Not only do students learn new skills, but coming to a group helps them realize that many other students have similar issues. It also normalizes one’s issues, which is sometimes a big concern since we sometimes feel we are the only ones going through particular issues in life and no one understands us.

Me: What if students don’t feel comfortable talking in a group?

Margaret:  People are invited to participate but not forced to. When facilitators pose a question, a participant can decide to pass. These groups aren’t like the traditional process groups; the participants do not have to talk a lot about personal issues. They instead focus on skill building.

Me: Is student information confidential?

Margaret: Yes, confidentiality is the foremost group guideline. Group participants are free to talk about their own experiences or reactions to what went on in the group, but not to identify any group members in any way. They cannot share information about who is in the group outside the session. There is a saying that we share in our groups: “What is shared here, stays here.”

Me: Is group counselling better than individual counselling for certain issues?

Margaret: Yes, especially if people want to gain skills quickly. Groups are rotating, so if someone misses a particular session topic they can come the next time that topic is offered. Students can also begin from any session. Group size on average is about six people.

Being a student myself, I know how stress and anxiety play a major role in academic achievement. While we may feel that what we are going through is something unique to us, group counselling counters that thought.

As an international student, I have been through the phase where I feel left out due to the transition to a new culture. But after I met a few others, who, like me had come a long way from home, it became easier to adapt to my new environment. Meeting them, talking about my problems, sharing my concerns, and using their experience to figure out new ways to cope has improved my ability to accept change in a positive light.

More information

Get more information about Counselling Services group programs.