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Campus group helps students deal with emotions
December 3, 2015Tweet
For many students, college is their first experience of being on their own. And while they’re constantly learning, students may not have learned how to accept and cope with stress and emotions.
Calming the Emotional Storm is an open group offered by the University Counseling Center — free to and for students — that is designed for individuals who experience intense or painful situations and emotions. In it, students explore ways to accept and handle their feelings — an important skill when trying to take control of everything life throws their way.
The group is based on Marsha Linehan’s dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) model.
Linehan, herself hospitalized as a suicidal teen years ago, said DBT was originally developed for treating suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. It has also been proven to treat substance dependence, eating disorders, anger and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Linehan, now a psychologist and professor at the University of Washington, discussed DBT during a presentation in the Mandela Room in October.
The term “dialectical” means an integration of opposites. The primary dialectic of DBT is the balance of two opposite strategies: acceptance and change. For example, participants are taught mindfulness and distress tolerance (i.e. acceptance-oriented skills) as well as emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness (i.e. change-oriented skills).
DBT strives for radical self-acceptance while incorporating behavioral science to change harmful behaviors, Linehan said. Her goal is for DBT to be as accessible as possible.
“We have so many people not getting treatment and we have so few psychologists teaching the treatments needed,” Linehan said. “So we’re taking another avenue. We’re now developing a whole program online – a six-week treatment using DBT skills. The outcomes of one particular group have been as just as good as the outcomes of inpatients using the exact same skills.”
On campus, Amy Kilpatrick, a licensed clinical social worker for the University Counseling Center, has tailored DBT and Calming the Emotional Storm to fit within the semester timeline.
The group opens with meditation. Then students review homework and discuss how they applied the skill they learned the previous week. Kilpatrick then introduces a new skill.
“It’s really set up like a classroom. It’s not the traditional group therapy you’d see on TV,” Kilpatrick said. “This is not a place where we share war stories. Sharing details is sometimes ineffective because retelling stories continually distresses a person.”
Instead, Calming the Emotional Storm pairs group skill-building sessions with individual therapy. Ideally, students will meet with a therapist biweekly in addition to meeting once a week with the group.
Over the course of a semester, students learn 12 to 14 new skills, including problem-solving, managing and separating emotions, handling stress and anxiety, and controlling anger and mood. The goal is to help students accept, find meaning for and balance emotions to overcome obstacles.
Participant Nicholas Rubenstein, a native of Brooklyn, said the skills have been beneficial for him.
Rubenstein, who is working on his master’s degree in business administration, said he comes from a family of mental-health experts — his father is a psychiatrist, and his grandparents, uncle and sister are therapists — who believe a happy mind is a healthy mind.
With a full schedule, he realized how difficult graduate school was and began having trouble organizing his time and thoughts.
In addition to taking six classes, Rubenstein plays in a band, works at local art gallery and hosts monthly film nights at the Bundy Museum of History and Art.
A diabetic who also suffers from asthma, Rubenstein sees a doctor at the Decker Student Health Services Center monthly. When he mentioned his mental frustrations, Rubenstein’s doctor recommended the University Counseling Center.
He began Calming the Emotional Storm two semesters ago. Already familiar with meditation and mindfulness, Rubenstein said the group was a perfect fit for him.
“Mindfulness is being aware of your emotional state and how it impacts your environment, and how emotions can trigger other emotions,” Rubenstein said. “The group has helped me to become a generally more mindful person. It’s really helped me in all parts of life that I wouldn’t have expected.”
Rubenstein said the skills taught in the group are especially helpful for managerial work, his desired field, because the group teaches participants how to separate what is important what is not.
“You become very economical with your thoughts. Ethics merges with these mindfulness concepts like a hand in a glove,” Rubenstein said. “You can interact with larger groups and be more valuable for larger organizations if you’re not including your own ego in your decision-making process.”
Rubenstein said he has taken on more team leadership roles and believes mindfulness has been essential to how he deals with people.
His personal life has also reaped the benefits.
As he learned new skills in the group, he taught them to his partner. He said the group has been vital in developing a lasting relationship. Rubenstein has also seen a decrease in his blood-glucose levels and cortisol levels.
Calming the Emotional Storm is one of many counseling groups offered on campus. Kilpatrick said counseling is especially beneficial for college students because many are on their own for the first time and experiencing new difficulties.
“Ultimately, the goal is to have a life worth living,” she said.