University Counseling Center hosts student support groups
Alexandra Muck | Friday, September 8, 2017
Every semester, the University Counseling Center (UCC) hosts several student support groups ranging from the “International Student Support Group” to “Not the Perfect Family” to the “Social Anxiety Group.”
“It’s a way for people with a specific issue or problem to get support from one another and to find ways of coping,” Peter Barnes, a psychologist with the UCC, said.
All the support groups are held in the UCC. The groups are open to both undergraduate and graduate students, and Barnes has found that both groups of students use them equally. He said the UCC tries to balance the groups in terms of males and females.
To join a group, Barnes said, students should schedule an initial assessment with a UCC counselor who can then discuss whether a group might be a recommended form of treatment for a student.
Barnes said group treatment can sometimes be “the treatment of choice for certain issues.” This is especially true of the Social Anxiety Group — which Barnes runs — since it gives students the chance to speak in public, something that is often scary for them, he said.
“It’s not a secondary or second-rate form of treatment,” Barnes said.
The Social Anxiety Group includes six to eight people a semester, which Barnes said is typical of the groups. When the UCC receives enough people for a group, it will close the group to new members, but if it is unable to get enough people in the group, it will not offer the group for the semester, Barnes said. He said the point at which either one of these things occur is typically around fall break.
Barnes said the “Be Real” group is a new group being offered this semester, but all the groups encourage authenticity.
“One of the things we challenge group members to do is be real and authentic,” he said. “ … Group offers a chance for people to be real and authentic, which can be healing.”
Barnes said one key benefit to groups is that it shows students the universality of suffering.
“I think the thing Notre Dame students struggle with is letting themselves ask for help,” he said. “ … One of the benefits of group is learning you’re not alone. Hopefully students realize pain and struggles are part of the human experience.”
Barnes said social media tends to paint a different picture of student health than the data shows, and he hopes groups can “debunk the myth” that all students are happy all the time.
At the same time, Barnes said it can be scary to join a group since there is inherent risk.
“When you put something out, you don’t know how people will respond,” he said. “That’s where the growth is — where it’s scary and uncomfortable.”
Barnes also said outside of groups, friends should try to support each other by listening.
“One of the most important things you can do for another is listen,” he said. “You don’t have to fix their problems.”