Due to the nature of confidentiality in therapy, the use of anonymous sources was deemed necessary to protect the privacy of those who attended the therapy session. Comments from two different students have been used in this article but will not be directly named.
In response to concerns raised last year about the inaccessibility of mental health services, counselors at Whitman have taken initiatives to reach more students. Safer Than Words: A Therapy Group with Expressive Arts is an example of a new approach advice center promotes in hopes of providing more options following the claims aired last year in Jhe Thread.
The therapy group was established in the spring semester of 2022. The focus is on the expressive arts and the group favors various approaches to solving mental health issues.
The group description describes the practices applied. With a heavy emphasis on creativity, traditional talk therapy plays a smaller role in the space. By prioritizing diversity, students of all artistic skill levels are encouraged to join.
“In this group, students will move between visual arts, music, dance/movement, drama, and expressive writing to honor their resilience and personal strength,” the description reads. “The expressive arts are effective for individuals who represent a wide range of diversities and differences. You don’t have to jump gracefully or paint masterfully to benefit from this therapeutic approach. Anticipate a welcoming, non-judgmental space to express what cannot be said in words.
Counselor Nick Duran Fair leads the Expressive Arts Therapy group on campus. Duran Fair strongly champions the artistic aspects of the band and talks about the accessibility that comes with the practice.
“Everyone brings their own culture, their own complex identity and there is room for that; there is room for everyone to be fully who they are,” Duran Fair said. “You connect with your culture when you approach these different art-based processes and draw on your own experiences. This is the somatic aspect. It is your first-hand lived experience.
Duran Fair describes the importance of diversity in the therapy group. The group welcomes students of varying abilities and backgrounds. Duran Fair thinks these circumstances can be very different for people.
“I would also say that the diversity lies in the fact that you don’t have to be a masterful dancer, painter or sculptor to do expressive arts. It’s really open to all walks of life, even all abilities,” Fair said. “You know, movement, for example, doesn’t have to feel like jumping in the air. If you live in a wheelchair you can still access the dance move as long as there is an opening there. This is what I hope this space will provide.
After the first session, an anonymous source at the event noted the personal benefits of participating in the group. They felt it created a nice break from the authoritarian expectations inherent in university life. The lack of formal evaluation contributed to the positive atmosphere. Rather than focusing on a specific goal, the anonymous source noted that the group’s freeform structure was a necessary aspect.
“I would say [the benefits are] taking time to slow down and get in touch with myself and the creative aspect without focusing on productivity or purpose, which I feel like a lot of school and education is based on “said the anonymous source. “What are you going to produce? How fast or how well can you do it? It was really the opposite of that, and I think the balance is so off balance in college in general that it was really necessary.”
A second anonymous source noted similar experiences during group therapy. They commented on the accessibility of the creative practices used.
“I think it’s also accessible creativity,” said the second anonymous source. “It’s not about producing; it’s not about representing yourself to others, but it’s just a matter of expression. I think that it’s good.
Addressing controversies over the accessibility of mental health care facilities on campus, the first anonymous source believes that this group is not a solution, but it can be a beneficial option that all students have easy access to.
“I think it helps with accessibility. Not that it solves the problem at all, but it’s a pretty low bar, and you don’t have to get treated [or fill out an intake form] coming soon,” the unnamed first source said. “You are just welcome, and it meets weekly. Although this is not direct individual therapy with a therapist, it is certainly a different type of therapy that is really beneficial for connecting with yourself and expressing yourself with other people.
The therapy groups available on campus from September to November are Safer Than Words: A Therapy Group with Expressive Arts and the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Group.
Learn more about Whitman Counseling Center website.