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You are the voice. We are the echo.
The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Echo

Group counseling encouraged

Confidentiality, convenience prioritized

Expect the initial awkwardness, come ready to learn alongside peers and know it will be a confidential space.

Craig Cochran, director of Taylor’s counseling center, extends this advice to students considering one of the center’s group sessions. 

Six-week group sessions offered this semester include “Loneliness in a Crowd” led by counseling intern Natalee Tippey, and “Understanding and Coping with Anxiety” spearheaded by counseling intern Jon Cavanagh. Tippey’s group plans to meet Wednesdays at 5 p.m.; Cavanagh’s will meet at 6 p.m. on a day determined by those interested in attending. 

The counseling team hopes to build momentum around group sessions on campus. Despite positive feedback and curiosity surrounding group sessions, attendance rates remain low.

The biggest barriers Cochran observed revolve around location and time.

He recognized that meeting in more visible locations can compromise the privacy and comfortable atmosphere of the center’s group sessions. The context of a smaller community, like Taylor, can emphasize the discomfort of entering a vulnerable space.

With this in mind, only the individuals interested in attending group sessions will know the exact location of session meetings.

Timing is an equally difficult barrier. The team desires to find a solution that will honor counselors’ availability alongside students’ preferences. Yet while most student schedules make evening sessions easier to attend, the center’s part-time staff generally don’t work past the afternoon hours. 

Beyond the barriers of timing and location, both Cochran and counselor Kara Patrick noted that stigmas around counseling — coupled with confusion around who to approach for support (hall directors, personnel or discipleship assistants, professors, etc.) — can interrupt student participation.

A common stigma is that counseling is only relevant for those with significant mental health difficulties.

Patrick encourages students to consider bringing any situation to the counseling center, regardless of how significant or insignificant the situation may seem.

“(There’s an) assumption that counseling is for really sick people, or people who are really struggling,” Patrick said. “When in reality, every person I talked to is normal — they just have a life, and life can feel really hard sometimes. And so I think that's important to understand, too: you don't have to be on the brink to seek services.”

Misconceptions around group sessions can also prevent students from attending. 

“I think people feel like when they come to a group, it's almost like what we've seen (at) an AAA meeting on TV,” Cochran said. “‘Hi, my name is Craig Cochran and I have a problem with ___’ — and I think people feel like that's it … (but) that's not the way groups work here.”

Cochran emphasized that students are encouraged to share only what they are comfortable disclosing.

Sessions are curriculum-based and psychoeducation-focused; session participants are offered resources to increase understanding, and a chance to connect with others through empathy, mutual support and confidentiality.

Laura Edwards, department chair and associate professor of psychology, clarified the benefits of group counseling.

“The Monitor’s (from the American Psychological Association) March of 2023 issue stated, ‘Group therapy is as effective as individual therapy, and more efficient. But it must be done effectively: (putting) together a successful group involves thinking about its structure, the interactions between group members, and how to best support the therapeutic process,’” she said. 

With more people to bounce ideas off of, group sessions can also shift perspectives and offer more tools for growth. 

Patrick’s response to students’ hesitations is simple: give it a shot.

Cochran believes even one session can be beneficial. Participating in one session, he said, does not require a long-term commitment. Students are encouraged to come when they can and share what they want.

Cochran emphasized an easy way to demonstrate support for those considering group sessions — “Go together.”

Walking with others to the center offices or accompanying them to an initial session, if appropriate, can dismantle stigmas around group counseling and make the participation process less intimidating.

If students have specific suggestions that would make group sessions more appealing, the center hopes they would feel comfortable communicating those suggestions. The counseling groups are largely built on student feedback; as a result, suggestions will be used to shape sessions offered in coming semesters.

Those interested in learning more about a specific group, or hoping to offer suggestions for improvement, can email counselingcenter@taylor.edu or call (765) 998-5222.

“(After) weighing the risks versus the benefits and seeing the potential great parts — give (group sessions) a shot,” Patrick said. “And then there's also no harm in saying, ‘Hey, I tried it, and that wasn't for me.’”