When I first started therapy at Eastern Michigan University’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), I was no stranger to my therapist. Within the hour, she knew my entire life story -- the good, the ugly, and the uglier. I didn’t want to waste my own time by filling in details here and there, so I let it all out at once and it hadn’t been my best decision.
My therapist was, and still is, amazing and she’s helped me in more ways I can thank her for, but I often find myself regretting how I handled our first visit. What I needed was to take things step-by-step and process my trauma when I was ready to. After a few sessions, she suggested that I try out one of or multiple therapy groups on campus.
I was reluctant. Talking myself into going to therapy in the first place was hard enough, and exhausting enough. With all my overwhelming anxiety, how was I supposed to cope with school, regular therapy, and therapy groups? It felt like it was all too much to handle, especially considering I was going through a rough patch with my suicidal ideation, but after some gentle goading from my therapist, I decided to try it out. We agreed that if I didn’t like it or didn’t see it as helpful, I could remove myself and continue solely with our individual sessions.
The first group I tried was a therapy group called “Understanding Self and Others” (USAO). Rena Pollak, a certified group psychotherapist, states that the difference between therapy groups and support groups is that therapy groups help you change and support groups help you cope. My goal in USAO was to stop my compulsive lying and manage my suicide laced intrusive thoughts.
There were three other college students in the room with me and two facilitators, and we worked extremely hard to identify our own problems and help others identify theirs. Not only that, but we processed information and offered our genuine support and own tales of similar situations.
I left that group feeling a lot better than I had when I started. It felt good to be surrounded by people who were completely different from me, and yet we were going through the same problems. Feeling a lot more confident in not only myself and other people around me, I joined a support group.
Before I started my support group, I had just recently identified myself as nonbinary, and it shook me to the core. I didn’t know what to do or how to come out about it. I had no idea if anyone would accept me, my pronouns, or my changed name. So, my trusted therapist guided me towards “Coming Out, Being Out” (COBO), a support group to help LGBTQ+ students to share their struggles with being in the community and how to manage coming out if that is what you chose. Again, there were two facilitators and a handful of students. With their help and their support, I came out to some of my family about not being straight and it has allowed me to be able to stop holding my breath.
Those peers of mine saved my life, and I’m not even sure they are aware of it. I still keep in contact with all of them and vice versa. Some of them have become my absolute best friends that I’d give anything for.
“When ‘i’ is replaced by ‘we’, even ‘illness’ becomes ‘wellness’.”
- Malcolm X
While my individual therapy is good for my mental health and has the same results of my therapy groups, it doesn’t allow me to obtain advice and knowledge from multiple perspectives at once. These groups allow me to divide and conquer my issues with the help of people who care about me and see me in the hallways between classes. They make my problems seem much more real and destructive, but alas, they make me feel much more able to manage my problems.
If you don’t want to do individualized therapy, which is understandable, I suggest that you consider your options with group therapy. Whether it has facilitators or is peer-led, sometimes all we need are a few extra ears to listen to us, a few extra waves of kindness, and a few extra hearts to help guide us when times get too hard.
Please, if you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1 (800) 273-8255. Stay with us.