Debunking the myths and stigmas of group counseling
Being anxious or nervous are normal emotions to feel before starting any type of counseling, but group counseling can serve as a place to practice being open to multiple people in your life and help to build meaningful skills and connections with other students.
Jen Moulton, an associate psychologist at University Health Services who coordinates the group counseling program, says preconceived ideas about group counseling might not be accurate. “Group counseling at UHS is not like what is portrayed in movies or television.”
Group counseling sessions are semester-long, weekly appointments attended by four to eight students, and facilitated by two professional counselors. No student is required to talk, and everything said in group counseling remains confidential.
Myth: I have to tell everyone my private feelings and emotions.
Truth: During UHS group counseling sessions, you’re never required to speak. You’re free to share as much or as little as you would like. Without mandatory participation, Moulton believes that when ready, students share how they truly feel and not just what they think others want to hear. “We encourage sharing, but there is no judgement if people tend to hold back,” Moulton says. “People can share as much or as little as they want.”
If you’re comfortable speaking, counselors can make recommendations based off of what you say to help meet your needs.
Moulton says it can actually be easier to share feelings with people you don’t know. “People you’re unfamiliar with don’t have biases toward who you are, so you can share with a clean slate. There’s space for your voice to be valued and you may also feel a sense of connection because you share similar experiences to other students.”
Myth: Listening to other people’s mental health problems could never help me. Individual counseling is better.
Truth: Individual counseling—one-on-one time with a counselor—can be the right option for some students, but group counseling is also beneficial and can lead to meaningful personal development with many of the struggles that college students face. Moulton finds that students who openly share their mental health issues with other students at group sessions tend to make huge steps in self-improvement.
“Group sessions help students feel connected to one another. The group setting is a way to validate their feelings – which shows students that they aren’t alone in facing their problems, and they don’t have to fight them alone.”
If you’re referred to group counseling, it doesn’t mean that individual counseling is not an option. “Some student concerns are better met within the group setting,” Moulton says.
“Group can be magical. When things are really flowing, and people are connected and supportive of one another, and learning about themselves—that can be such a profound experience. At the end of the semester, most students feel sad that groups have ended. They’re a great place to make connections in a safe environment,” says Moulton.
Myth: Not enough, or too many people attend these sessions.
Truth: A group session averages between four to eight people, with eight being the maximum. Moulton says this number has proven to be a comfortable size for students. “More than eight students in a group can make sessions seem intimidating, and with three or fewer students, there’s a smaller chance people will speak and share their thoughts.”
Groups switch every semester, so if you continue a group session, you won’t be with the same students. Moulton says students benefit from being in group with different individuals because they can make new connections and learn from different students’ perspectives.
Making the transition to group counseling
In addition to group counseling, UHS offers various workshops aimed at helping students overcome common challenges such as test anxiety and time management. These workshops are not formal counseling and often meet for one or two sessions, and are more informational than discussion-based. During a workshop, it is not expected that one’s symptoms would becompletely resolved, but rather a student might learn tools for coping or additional resources to support their needs. You can sign up for as many workshops as you’d like throughout your time at UW–Madison.
How do I get started?
For a list of groups and the group counseling schedule, visit the UHS Group Counseling page. To sign up for a group counseling session, log in to your MyUHS account to schedule an Access Appointment, or call UHS at 608-265-5600 (option 2). Students must have a referral from their counselor to attend a group session.
written by Emilie Burditt, UHS Communications