This October, the STA counseling department started a new group counseling program with therapists from Great Oaks Therapy Center and Resolve Counseling. There is a new space on the second floor of the M&A building where weekly meetings will be held.
STA Counselor Amanda Whitcomb has done programs like group counseling in the past at other schools and is very excited to introduce it at STA.
“When you’re creating a school counseling program you need to have all elements of counseling, there needs to be a primary intervention which would start with class meetings or all school assemblies, and then second level which is group counseling. Then we have the tertiary level which would be crisis or individual counseling,” Johnson Whitcomb said.
The STA counseling department has always provided primary interventions and individual counseling.
“We were really missing that group piece and that’s something I’ve done in the past, and it was something I thought was important to bring back so that we could have a comprehensive program,” Johnson Whitcomb said.
In fact, hearing from peers may be more helpful than receiving guidance from a therapist since peers can identify with one another. Those peer interactions appear to translate to real-world gains, according to Stanford University’s Irvin David Yalom, MD, in the 2005 book “The Theory and Practice of Group Psychology”.
Johnson Whitcomb also acknowledges that, “you can have individual counseling all day long and still feel kind of isolated at times. It can be really powerful especially if you have a good rapport with the therapist or counselor, but as a group, you start to recognize that you’re not alone in this. Sometimes it’s nice to have a safe group of people to talk through things with.”
Therapists Lindsay Ryan and Lily Dawson from Great Oaks Counseling Center are going to be on campus to help with the weekly meetings. Ryan has done similar programs in residential and after-school settings and has really seen a change for the better in the participants.
“The benefit of people being able to talk about emotional problems and things that can otherwise be stigmatized or taboo is that once there is open dialogue there is a total shift in vulnerability and just in general comfort with yourself,” Ryan said.
Both Ryan and Dawson are hopeful that the STA student body would see similar improvements. They were particularly excited to be working with girls of the high school age group.
“I think that there is a heck of a lot of stuff going on with the high school girl population right now, and we would be remiss to not consider those things to be emotionally significant and impactful on our mental health,” Dawson said.
“I think it’s wild that we neglect to think about our emotional experience having any effect on our academic life or our social relationships so it’s our hope that we can dive into some of these issues that wouldn’t be discussed otherwise.”
So far, Dawson and Ryan have been successful in creating a safe, open space for students to connect.
“The environment feels very safe, and I’m excited to be able to talk with people who are going through the same things as me, and I feel like this is also a good place to meet new people,” an anonymous group counseling participant said. “The therapists are also really nice, and they’re pretty young so I feel like they’ll understand us pretty well.”