Cuddles with a therapy dog and tips to cope with unwelcome thoughts are just a couple of the ways four new groups launched by Ryerson’s counselling centre in March will deal with high demand and long wait times for appointments.
The groups will serve as alternative methods of helping upwards of 50 students who are not in crisis but are on six-month to year-long wait lists, according to Sarah Thompson at the Centre for Student Development and Counselling.
“We’re really trying to maximize our use of groups because often they are best practice for mild-to-moderate challenges,” the clinical co-ordinator said.
“We hope that these groups will really target thought patterns that undermine people’s confidence and motivation, and how people cope when they are feeling overwhelmed by emotion so they can cope in safe and productive ways,” Thompson said.
One of the four groups, Cuddles with Kate, expands on the puppy therapy sessions available to students during Mental Wellbeing Week. It allows students to spend 15 minutes a week with Kate the therapy dog
The Stress Management Lab, which starts in time for midterm exams, is a new group that will teach students strategies to manage stress.
The third new group, Shift Your Thinking, will help members identify and change unwelcome thought patterns.
Culture Clash is another new group that will combine discussions about students’ experiences of conflicting cultures with strategies to approach such problems in their lives.
While pre-existing groups at the counselling centre are closed groups, which means no new students can enter once they begin, the new ones are open groups. This means new students can join throughout the program and may be referred by the centre immediately, according to Thompson.
Since membership will constantly change, the groups will focus more on helping students build skills and techniques, rather than encouraging them to share intimate details.
The groups will run through the rest of this semester and may return in the spring/summer and fall semesters if demand persists, Thompson said.
Demand at the CSDC is outweighing available resources and the prospect of more space and counsellors is always uncertain.
However, Ryerson’s director of student health and wellness, Su-Ting Teo, said the addition of open counselling groups allows the centre to help more students despite static resources.
“Group therapy is actually more effective than individual therapy in many situations and also it improves our capacity, because you need two counsellors and you can see 10 students at a time,” she said.
Liz Wood, one of four third-year Ryerson students in the process of starting a mental health support group called SMASH on campus, read the descriptions for the new groups and said she was immediately excited about their potential to help students.
“Students can really, really benefit from any one of these groups and I really think that it’s great that (the CSDC is) taking initiative and realizing that there’s kind of a gap and they’re trying to fill it by giving students more opportunities to get support,” said Wood, a graphic communications management student.
Wood said she would have considered joining the Shift Your Thinking group if it were available when she was seeking help. She said the group’s goal of helping students change their negative thinking by using thought records is similar to techniques she learned in a therapy program at Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga.
However, the open groups are mainly for students who are on wait lists after having completed an initial triage session at the counselling centre to determine the urgency of their cases. Eligible students can then join the groups at any time and attend as often as they need.
Last weekend, all students on the counselling centre’s wait list were informed about the launch of the new groups.
“Something magical happens when students come together. It is a powerful thing to learn new skills, and to see and feel that you are not alone,” Thompson said.
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on February 26, 2014.