The smell of the eucalyptus aromatherapy candle drifts through the office, engulfing me as I take deep breaths and wait. I am alone with my thoughts. I repeatedly fiddle with my pen and allow my mind to go over the day’s events until my name is called.
Counseling and Psychological Services (C.A.P.S.) provides the UCSB community with mental health peers and professionals. Students typically make appointments to speak with certified therapists to discuss qualms or issues occurring in their personal lives. Such situations vary from person to person, but in my case, a past trauma led my anxiety, depression and eventual paranoia.
I have rehearsed my words enough for an elementary school recitation. But when he pulls me into the other room, I jumble them into a pool of alphabet soup.
“How are you doing?” he asks me.
“I’m good, how are you?” I respond automatically. This is the only correct answer; I never have an alternative. I am conditioned to this detachment from my own emotions and find it even harder to express vulnerability in the face of a supposed professional.
My appointment consists of fluff: surface-level talk about my family, studies and extracurricular activities dominates the conversation. When it concludes, my therapist inquires if I have any interest in group therapy. He explains that I would forfeit the opportunity of having one-on-one appointments with a therapist, but the support that group therapy will provide is so monumental it should outweigh any doubts I have about it.
According to the American Psychological Association, group therapy “involves one or more psychologists who lead a group of roughly five up to fifteen patients.” It usually addresses some sort of problem such as shyness, loneliness, anxiety and social anxiety (although I find it slightly ironic having to discuss your social anxiety in front of a large group of people).
Dr. Ben Johnson, a member of the American Psychological Association, claims that there are a multitude of benefits worth reaping from group therapy, such as support, guidance of a professional and empathy from those who share similar experiences. At first glance, it seems like group therapy might work. In theory, it has potential: You can listen to people who undergo similar issues and find ways to apply other perspectives to your problems, gain a sense of inclusivity and grow more self-aware. If you’ve been in a difficult mental place before, you might find it helpful to attend and possibly learn better coping mechanisms from a professional.
However, it is impractical to say that the advantages of group therapy apply to everyone, especially since it demands complete openness to strangers who may breach confidentiality. Participants must express sheer transparency about their personal lives to more than five people they may not know, much less trust. The American Mental Health Foundation states that it proves even more difficult in situations in which members are in crises or are suicidal, as “it is necessary to function with a degree of normalcy.” Yet, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, there are 16 million people in the world diagnosed with depression, a common precursor to having suicidal thoughts, and a myriad of them attend group therapy.
Depression is truly a leech. It sucks the motivation, happiness and joy out of your life — but do not lose all hope. Navigating my way through mental health disorders was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, and I am still doing it.
Despite this, individual therapy is also an option. The American Psychological Association claims that individual therapy is successful due to high confidentiality, therapeutic alliance and an individualized approach to treatment. Confidentiality is not easily breached in such a private environment, which could prove useful to elevate a patient’s sense of safety. An elevated sense of safety could consequently promote a therapeutic alliance, allowing more bonding between both therapist and client to encourage the client to share more aspects of his or her life. Such therapeutic alliance can also assist a therapist in formulating plans to cater toward an individual’s needs and pace. However, the success rate of individualized therapy is highly contingent on a client’s willingness to open up and the therapist’s willingness to listen and provide constructive insight.
Although I personally attended both group and individual therapy sessions, I found none of my therapists to be a good fit. For a while, I thought maybe I was just too difficult to understand or that my situation was too complicated for an outsider to make a coherent judgement. So I began doing other things that helped me cope: I returned to my beginnings and slowly picked up my old hobbies again. Before my downward spiral began, music and writing were both huge components of my life. Motivating myself to be productive with the things I loved was difficult, but in the long run, it was an effective step in the right direction. In fact, the American Psychological Association compiled a number of studies which suggested a positive correlation between music and promoted recovery of depression or stress. With this in mind, alternative options to talk therapy should be considered for those who do not find words the most accessible form of expression. Art, music and even online therapies are all possibilities.
Depression is truly a leech. It sucks the motivation, happiness and joy out of your life — but do not lose all hope. Navigating my way through mental health disorders was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, and I am still doing it. But there are people out there who want to help you, and although I found utilizing therapists ineffective, this does not mean you will. It does get better, and you will eventually find peace once you try healing methods tailored to you.
So next time C.A.P.S. suggests group therapy or asks if you’d like to continue your current sessions, think twice about what works for you. Options at a university are limited, but there are a multitude of outside resources in the real world that could potentially benefit you. It is difficult to know what works without trying a vast range of therapies, but once you find the right method, I hope you can say “I’m good” and mean it. The road to recovery is a long one, but there are no speed limits.
Jasmine Feng thinks that everyone has an individualized approach to therapy and there should be no rush to figure things out.