More Yalies are using group therapy as a mental health resource.
Group therapies are typically organized around a central focus, such as addiction or bereavement and are led by a therapist who facilitates conversation on a weekly basis. Over the past five years, the number of therapy groups have increased from three to 10.
“Group therapies have been available for as long as I can remember — decades,” said Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin. “But utilization has increased greatly in the last couple of years.”
Individual therapy sessions are capped at 12 sessions per year for students covered by Yale’s basic health plan, but a full semester of group therapy is free for students with insurance. However, Catherine Roberts, a psychiatrist at Yale Health who leads the group therapy treatment program, does not believe that the limit on individual therapy is driving people to the groups. Instead, she thinks the social component of group therapy is attractive to potential participants.
“It’s not uncommon for students to feel ‘alone’ with their struggles,” Roberts said in an email, noting that the ability to listen and respond to the concerns of other students in a group helps them to gain insights about their own difficulties. “This type of interaction is not possible in individual therapy.”
Both Genecin and Roberts acknowledged students often initially view group therapies with skepticism, but after trying the sessions out, they realize they like them.
An undergraduate student who has been receiving therapy and drug-based treatment for Attention Deficit Disorder for the past 10 years, and who chose to remain anonymous due to fear of being stigmatized, agreed with Roberts and Genecin. After receiving treatment from an off-campus therapist, she returned to Yale Health so that she could receive group therapy with other Yalies.
“Some people like to solve their problems by getting it out there and having someone listen,” she said. “I am one of those people.”
According to Genecin, certain conditions, such as compulsive behaviors and addictions, are well treated by group therapy because students who are struggling with the same issues can support one another. He noted that a pervasive misconception exists that everyone at Yale is happy. That conception, he said, makes many students feel that they are being selfish or succumbing to weakness by seeking treatment. Group therapy is a sound way to debunk that myth and get treated at the same time, he said.
The student who is receiving treatment for ADD said that seeing other people in the same position made coping with her mental illness easier.
“It’s kind of like walking through the mental health part of the Yale Health center,” she said. “Sure, it’s embarrassing if you see someone you know at first, but they are there too, so the shame is shared.”
Although Roberts said that students are more likely to opt for group therapy if they have heard positive reviews from friends, this student said she pursued group therapy despite not knowing anyone who had tried it. She noted that different treatments work well for different people, so recommendations from friends — who may be coping with different issues — are not always the best advice to go by.
Genecin said that it is hard to know whether increased demand for mental health treatment is driving the growth of group therapy sessions. While a decrease in the stigma surrounding mental illness may be behind the increase in students signing up for group therapy, the increase could also be attributed to more groups being available. Roberts said there has been a concerted effort to expand the group therapy program.
According to Roberts, the new interest in group therapy has nothing to do with difficulty in getting individual therapy appointments. She said that many students actually use both individual and group therapy. In a survey conducted at the Yale Law School, 76 percent of respondents who received treatment for mental health issues did so through individual therapy at Yale Health. Less than 10 percent said they had used group therapy.
Genecin said that the wait time for individual treatment can be up to six weeks — an April 2014 survey by the News survey found that the average wait time between scheduling and an intake appointment is two and a half weeks — but when students must wait for more than two weeks, they can utilize the Running Start Program, which places students in group therapy while they are waiting for individual therapy.
But even group therapy can be difficult to access, according to the student who suffers from ADD.
“I can’t be in a group this semester, because there was only one space in one group available for me, and the meeting time clashed with one of my classes,” said the student who requested anonymity.
Both clinicians interviewed acknowledged that privacy concerns may dissuade students from utilizing group therapy, though students are allowed to change groups if they find themselves in a group with someone they already know.
The Mental Health and Counseling services at Yale Health can be found on the third floor of 55 Lock St.