This spring semester, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), a division of Gannett Health Services, has expanded its roster of free weekly support and therapy groups from eight to seventeen. These support groups allow interaction between seven or eight students and a CAPS facilitator in a private setting and cover a wide range of topics including stress management, strengthening self-esteem, and motivation.
Whereas individual visits with the CAPS staff are limited per person and carry a $10 fee, group participation is always free and unlimited. Interested students can participate by filling out a short form at CAPS, which is located on the first floor of Gannett, and meeting with the group facilitator for an initial screening.
According to Mandy Bratton, an associate director of psychological services, the decision to widen the program was spurred by the popularity of group services in past semesters as well as by the appropriateness of group therapy for college students.
“A lot of the problems that college students come to see us about are relational, and lend themselves to the group setting,” Bratton said. “It’s healing to discover that you’re not the only one that is struggling with certain issues.”
Sigrid Frandsen-Pechenik, an associate director of psychological services, believes that group interaction has a normalizing effect on students in their relations with peers. Aside from being more cost effective and allowing for CAPS workers to meet with more than one student at a time, group work allows individuals to learn from each other and to provide mutual support.
“The number of students who feel comfortable asking for support has grown,” Frandsen-Pechenik said. “By increasing the number of groups and the types of groups available, we can successfully deliver services to a wider population.”
Among the new groups being offered this semester is Journeys from Asian Students to Professionals: Education and Reflection (JASPER), which held its first meeting yesterday in the Willard Straight Hall International Lounge. Wendy Lin, facilitator of JASPER, hopes to address issues relating to Asian and Asian American identity within the Cornell community as well as in the outside world of work.
“We realized that there weren’t a lot of services on campus specifically for Asian and Asian American students,” Lin said. “The resource center in Rockefeller is really just a library. We need to reach out in innovative ways that are suitable to this population culturally.”
JASPER goes beyond the traditional framework of group therapy to provide what Frandsen-Pechenik refers to as an “educational experience.” Working with the Office of the Dean of Students, Lin facilitates a casual forum for students of Asian descent to discuss issues ranging from family life to advancing in the professional world.
“Other counseling groups are more about therapy, looking at deficits and problems,” Lin said. “When you are working with Asian and Asian American students, it is a matter of how they are existing within mainstream culture. We will look at what it means to be Asian or Asian American, and also address some of the biases and stereotypes that exist.”
In addition to JASPER, students have also shown immediate interest in, “Connect and Explore,” which has already expanded from one weekly session to four. Rather than focusing on a specific issue, the group allows for general discussion with direction dictated by group participants. Frandsen-Pechenik believes that, “Connect and Explore” functions particularly well as a first group experience.
According to Bratton, students have found group encounters to be enormously positive and most want to remain involved semester after semester. Initially however, the idea of sharing feelings and experiences in the company of strangers may seem disconcerting.
“It’s perfectly normal to be apprehensive,” Bratton said. “If you’re going to a party with strangers you would be apprehensive too. You’re with your peers and it’s likely that they’re cooler and more in touch than we are. Their advice and support may be more valuable than ours.”
In addition, there are no expectations or rules dictating what students reveal during sessions. Confidentiality is maintained within all of the groups, which are led by CAPS psychologists and social workers, and students who wish to contribute little or simply listen to the discussion are welcome.
“We’re trying to make groups a safe, low pressure environment,” Lin said. “Group members are not there to criticize and judge each other.”
Although much of the information regarding group services is spread by word-of-mouth, CAPS has embarked
on an aggressive advertising campaign to inform a wider segment of the student population. Along with pamphlets and billboards around campus outlining the different groups that are offered, CAPS staff members are currently working with Gannett physicians, Resident Advisers and student offices to inform students of their options. Lin in particular has contacted Career Services in order to gain access to a larger segment of the Asian and Asian American population.
“We talk to people who deal with the students on a daily basis so they can spread our voice,” Frandsen-Pechenik said.
Archived article by Jason Leff