Counseling Center Debuts New Group Therapy Options


Oberlin’s health and wellness programs are getting a big makeover this year—and I don’t just mean their move to Dascomb and the $2.8 million cost of renovating a midcentury dining hall into a sleek new health facility. In addition to being housed in a significantly more functional and accessible location, the Oberlin Counseling Center is now offering a variety of group therapy options. The groups are designed to teach hands-on skills and coping mechanisms, while also providing students with communities of support. Most of the groups meet once a week for multiple sessions. Such regularity “helps to hold people accountable,” says Alexis DaFonseca, the Post Doctoral Resident who has been in charge of leading and promoting many of the new group therapy options. 


There are currently 10 plus groups being offered or slated to be offered in the coming months. Some of the groups—such as Mindful Mondays, Anxiety Toolbox, and Personal Growth—are focused on developing specific skills to address internal conflict and relationship issues. DaFonseca describes these groups as following more of a “curriculum.” “In Anxiety Toolbox, we address questions such as: What is anxiety? How does it function in our body? What are some effective ways of managing anxiety, physiologically as well as in our thought patterns?,” she says. “Anxiety toolbox is primarily didactic,” echoes John Harshbarger, Director of Student Health and Counseling. 


The counseling center is also offering more process-oriented groups, such as Grief and Loss, Gender ID Support, and In My Feelings. These groups often run for longer periods of time and involve more disclosure from their members. “You have an opportunity to talk about what’s going on and how you’re feeling,” says Harshbarger. “That modality”—that is, group therapy—“is really more effective than individual therapy in some cases,” he adds. “Being able to connect with other people going through the same thing can be so powerful.” 


When asked if the addition of group therapy options was in response to specific student requests or part of a broader school initiative to promote well-being, Harshbarger says “all of the above.” “Over the years we’ve surveyed students, and some of the groups we’re currently offering are groups that students had marked that they’d felt would be important for us to have.” DaFonseca emphasizes that the Counseling Center is always looking for student input: “We just added our Gender ID Support Group [on behalf of student requests]. If people have interests, we encourage them to reach out to us.” 


Group therapy tends to be offered in larger universities and institutions. “At first I wasn’t quite sure if it would work on such a small campus,” Harshbarger says. I can see where he’s coming from; it’s nearly impossible to be anonymous at Oberlin, and participating in a support group where there’s a possibility you might know half the people in the room might not be for everyone. Even so, Harshbarger says that the groups have been well-attended, and that the counseling center has only received positive feedback on the new therapy options so far. 


More information about existing (and TBA) groups can be found on the Counseling Center’s website, at

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