A Rise in Group Therapy
by Juan Lachapelle | published May. 5th, 2014
RIT Counseling Center sits on the second floor of the August Center. A small but dedicated staff prides itself in providing the highest quality care possible for our diverse campus. For years now, the numbers of appointments have continued to grow and have put strain on the center’s programming and the centers’ staff. At one point in February, it was rumored that they had done away with one on one sessions in favor of group sessions. This gathered a lot of interest through the RIT reddit page with people looking for concrete answers.
John Weas, director of the Counseling Center, made a direct statement himself in a reddit post and debunked the rumor. He explained that the center will be greatly expanding their group sessions while limiting one on one sessions for cases needing greater attention like emergencies and those with suicidal tendencies.
Some speculated the change came about due to the center being understaffed, not having sufficient funds or trying to get as many people in as possible. It is a bit of a transition for the center and its employees but they are looking for support and cooperation from the campus and its students.
Weas and Director of Clinical Services Mark Miles both see the center as understaffed and lacking in physical space. They often have to partner with other departments and services on campus to find spaces for therapy sessions.
According to Weas, the national average for the counselor to student ratio is about 1 to 1613 with RIT being a bit higher at 1 to 1700. Most of the staff is working at max capacity. The center aims for 1-2 week waits at most and they never want to turn away students for any reason. He went on to state that other institutions usually have month long waiting lists and defer students to outside sources.
Based off students’ responses to the group therapy post on reddit, there appears to be a bit of negativity that surrounds group therapy sessions. It can be very awkward for students to discuss their issues and feelings with a random group of individuals, especially for those who want to keep those issues private. For most people, the ideal situation for counseling would be one on one with a professional in order to ensure privacy and guarantee professional help.
An average session for a group counseling includes around 8-10 students with similar situations with the mediation of a staff member. Some students have issues with revealing their personal problems to others and would rather take the one on one session even if they are recommended to a group session.
Weas talked about rapidly expanding group sessions. According to him, this shift is due to the high numbers of students that are in need of help and the effectiveness of having multiple viewpoints compared to just one. “We surveyed students in groups last semester and almost all of them said it met their counseling goal,” said Weas. Some students had chosen to share their experiences of the counseling center but have chosen to stay anonymous due to the sensitivity of their stories.
An anonymous male student stated he had a few experiences with the center since his freshman year while trying to cope with a variety of issues like dealing with being away from home and suicidal. He was able to setup a regular meeting with a counselor within a week and was recommended to a group session afterwards.
He felt that his personal counseling session was lacking as the counselor only had a questionnaire to go off of. He went back his junior year for emergency counseling after a suicide attempt and had a much better experience. “I don’t know if it was just that person or the entire personal counseling side that isn’t very good,” the student explained. He had a few group counseling sessions and felt awkward throughout and didn’t find them effective. Even so, as an orientation assistant, he always recommends the center to new students to seek help as soon as possible if they need it.
Miles says that one-on-one sessions aren’t necessarily better than groups. Most students coming into RIT, some with years of one-on-one therapy behind them, are too accustomed to the idea of “Freudian, old guy sitting and somebody laying in a couch”. He sees group sessions as equally effective in comparison to individual sessions and he believes that they should be better utilized as a standalone solution or in conjunction with one-on-one sessions and vice-versa.
However, some students are simply too dependent one-on-one one therapy to seek out or consider alternative solutions. “There are students who will come to us and say, ‘Since fifth grade I have been in therapy,’” said Miles. “If I was working in something for seven years and not getting any resolution of it, I would be looking to move on to something else.”
Many students who seek out the center’s services are looking for “problem solvers” to help fix temporary, non-fatal issues like stress and relationship problems, rather than provide actual therapy. The center is specialized in this type of problem solving but Miles believes this style of therapy is best suited for group sessions.
Ken Postel, second year Industrial and Systems Engineer, went to the counseling center last semester after being overwhelmed with midterms and simply wanted someone to talk to. He was able to set up and get the meeting after about a week with a counselor and gained some simple advice after the buildup of stress and troubles. When he wanted to see a psychiatrist, he was told it would take about a month. He understood how busy the center was and opted to look for an outside source to gain some additional help.
Currently there are specialized group sessions centered on common problems like those in identifying and accepting gender/sexual orientation and in relationship problems. Sessions for groups are now being offered every day of the week and at various times to fit a wider range of schedules in comparison to the two to three times a week these sessions used to be offered. This does not mean that they are doing less one-on-one sessions. In fact, the number of individual sessions has also been increasing every year.
An anonymous female student described her experience with the counseling center after dealing with her stalker boyfriend. After some stress and medication left her in the hospital for a week, she came back with a request from the center to visit her for a one on one session. “[My counselor] gave me her personal cell phone number and said, ‘If there [are] any problems, feel free to talk to me in the future,’” said the student. “She also helped me file a police report and gave me good advice on the situation.” The counselor talked to the boyfriend herself in order to settle the matter and gave the female student additional appointments to make sure she felt better.
The center is aiming to get students to be successful by getting them the skills and help they need so that eventually, they will no longer need additional therapy. “My job, as a clinician, is to make myself obsolete to the client as quickly as possible,” said Miles. “I do them a disservice, if I have them linger because it’s convenient or economic for me.”
Miles and Weas are currently happy with the support and acknowledgment from RIT for the current state of the center counseling, but they want to expand all resources before they begin to request more staff or space. “We are trying to be mindful operating in an institutional environment that is constrained financially…” said Weas “…trying to be good stewards and trying to do everything within our own ability to make sure we are effectively and efficiently using the resources that we do have.”