General

Finding Support Through Group Therapy

Knowing how to find and use the mental health services available to you on campus can be a daunting task. I’ve heard from students who have found great counsellors at the Health and Wellness Centre and others still who, not knowing what kind of support they were exactly looking for, were overwhelmed with where to start.

One of the things I found most helpful among the mental health services that I have had experience with were the CBT groups offered at Health & Wellness.

Group of empty chairs arranged in a circle, facing each other

source: outlookcbt.com

One of the mental health services that are offered through the Health & Wellness Centre (HWC) is group therapy. Last year, after talking with my doctor in the 2nd Floor Clinic of the HWC, I found myself being referred to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Mood and Anxiety group, a.k.a. a “CBT group.” I then attended an intake assessment with someone on the 1st Floor Clinic of the HWC  and a few weeks later I was informed that there were spots available in the new cycle of CBT group coming up.

The program is a 2 hour a week, 8 week commitment. The groups contain around 10-12 participants, are led by two professionals from the 1st Floor Clinic (i.e. psychologist, social worker, etc.), and are “skills-based.” The HWC offers different types of groups, but the purpose of this particular one was to develop and practice the skills that are learned through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or CBT) in a group setting. (For more info: What is CBT?)

Basic tenets of CBT in graph form: linking behavior to feelings to thoughts

The basic tenets of CBT, from Wikipedia

I was quite wary of group therapy initially as I thought I would be too anxious and insecure to actually be at ease during group sessions to get anything out of it – nobody likes to be judged, after all. The most pleasantly surprising thing I found was how supportive the environment was and how much I related to the other participants despite how different each of our individual situations were. We were undergrads and grads and engineers and lit majors. Our concerns ranged from stressing out about an essay to surviving a first job to planning a wedding, even. Some of us were dealing with both depression and anxiety, some of us with only one or the other. For some of us this was our first time dealing with mental health issues on this scale. For others, we’ve been dealing with some of these issues for years.

What I found the most helpful about these sessions was my ability to spot negative or unproductive behaviour and thinking patterns in myself that I had been unable to spot on my own previously. You are with yourself all day, everyday and so unhealthy behaviour sometimes goes unnoticed since they become so natural to you. By listening to others share their experiences, I actually got a better understanding into how my mind tends to go to negative thinking patterns more often than not. Even on days when I barely shared anything with the group, I found it extremely illuminating to sit and hear the others speak.

Being able to check in with the other group members and be held accountable for learning and actually implementing new CBT skills in daily life was also another benefit of these sessions. Sometimes things went well during the week when I tried a new CBT strategy or tested my limits in new ways. Other times it didn’t, and by hearing how others struggled with testing out their new skills as well as sharing my own struggles I was able to approach problems from new perspectives.

I should stress that finding help and support for depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues is a highly individualized process – not everything works for everyone. The experience I had with the CBT group worked well for me, but it might be useless to someone else. Has anyone else had experience with a particularly useful campus resource when searching for mental health support?


Also keep in mind that in a lot of cases a doctor or other mental health professional on campus may tell you that, depending on the nature of your concerns, you are not eligible for certain services. If that’s the case however, they will most likely point you towards a service that you are eligible for and that may be more suited to your needs. Likewise, if you are in a situation that requires more immediate or specialized help and go to a campus service, they will probably direct you to the nearest emergency room.