Mental health can be hard to prioritize. With the added stress of deadlines, term papers and the minutia of college life, self-care can be easily be swept up by the busyness of just being a student.
Gonzaga’s Counseling Services recently unveiled three new support groups; cinema therapy, expressive arts and coping with difficult people. All three therapies are led by licensed staff therapists, meet once a week and are free for enrolled GU students with ID.
“We are always looking to augment individual services with group therapy, which is particularly effective for college students,” said Libby Skiles, assistant dean for Student Well-Being & Healthy Living. “[Students] have asked for more groups to be available and groups that address common concerns, like anxiety and depression, in a variety of ways.”
The groups were introduced mid-February and all except coping with difficult people will continue into April.
“There are some universal ways of coping with difficult people that many people may utilize in daily life; however, certain ways of coping with difficult people can add more stress and compound problems,” said Jeff Bafus, a staff therapist who facilitates both the cinema therapy and coping with difficult people groups.
Coping with difficult people was split into two parts. Half was dedicated to recognizing what type of difficult person someone was (i.e. someone who is aggressive, a whiner or a know-it-all) and the other half was used to determine which strategies would be helpful for dealing with them.
Both the coping with difficult people and the cinema therapy group are conducted by a staff therapist who work with attendees to choose a topic for that session, then encourages discussion so that students can share and better understand each other’s viewpoints.
“Observing circumstances that attendees to choose a topic for that session, then encourages discussion so that students can share and better understand each other’s viewpoints.
“Observing circumstances that many, if not most, college students have experienced in their lives through cinema helps someone identify and understand thoughts, beliefs and emotions with a different perspective,” said Bafus. “Discussion about different thoughts within the group promotes more processing and insights that can be put into action in real life.”
The movies picked for cinema therapy are chosen based on research on the effectiveness of cinema therapy as well as the recommendations of other counselors with experience in the field. Some of the movies on the list include “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “Inside Out” and “500 Days of Summer.”
“People might think of the cinema therapy group as simply watching and reviewing a movie,” said Bafus. “The focus is more on identifying characters, values and circumstances that people have a connection with and exploring why is that connection in place, what kind of reaction does that produce?”
Some themes touched on in cinema therapy include life transitions, family dynamics, dating, loss and friendship through individual reflection and group discussions.
“Observing relatable experiences through a more removed lens can help people reflect on their life and process thoughts/emotions in a more comfortable way than focusing specifically on the details of their life and choices,” said Bafus.
The cinema therapy group meets every Friday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the Health and Counseling center conference room, on 704 E. Sharp Ave.
Bafus, along with all the staff therapists including Elizabeth Bech and Jennifer Lott, were hired full time because of their experience working with the concerns common among college students.
“Expressive arts aims to assist in exploring emotions, foster self-awareness and provide a creative outlet for students of all art skill levels,” said Bech and Lott in a joint email. “We use a variety of mediums in our group including watercolors, oil pastels, colored pencils and collage work.”
Expressive arts is led by two licensed mental health professionals who encourage creative expression through an art activity itself, as well as the discussion that follows.
Each week, the expressive arts group features a new art-based activity. All the materials are provided by the proctors.
“We first give some background on the activity, including examples. Then we invite students to participate with several different options available,” said Bech and Lott.
The expressive arts group is held every Tuesday, 12:15 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. until April 16. This group is also at the Health and Counseling office. Lunch is provided.
“Everyone is welcome to come to the group — whether you last took an art class in fifth grade or are an art major, we would love the opportunity to create with you,” said Bech and Lott.
All three therapy groups were planned and developed a few weeks before the semester started. The end product is several hours of developed curriculum and the product of marketing groups. Still despite all the effort, the groups were off to a rocky start.
“The groups are open for eligible students to drop in any week — you don’t have to attend from the beginning or attend every week to benefit,” Skiles said.
Even though the coping with difficult people group has ended, there are still seven other support groups offered by the Health and Counseling Services — each set up to help students in different ways.
“Our goal is to create more opportunities for students to get support as well as create a space where they can connect with other students who may be experiencing the same thing,” said Skiles.
Students can learn more on the Health and Counseling Services website.