New support groups at the Stone Center
Published: Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Updated: Thursday, May 10, 2012 09:05
The following article contains material of a sensitive nature. The Wellesley News reminds students that the emergency phone line is available at (781) 283-2839.
To address the rising concern of eating disorders and the taboo subject of sexual assault experiences, the Stone Center announced two new support groups beginning this Spring, the “Eating Concerns and Body Image Support Group” for students who have struggled with negative body image and “Survivors” for students who experienced sexual assault at or above the age of 16.
The two support groups were created as a result of student interest and growing attention to both eating concerns and sexual abuse in the Wellesley community. The support groups are expected to serve as new resources that students may use in addition to individual therapy at the Stone Center, therapy at outside clinics, on-campus workshops and on-campus support networks such as ResLife staff, Religious and Spiritual Life, cultural advisors and peer groups.
“There are a number of students at Wellesley struggling with eating issues,” Robin Cook-Nobles, Director of the Counseling Service of the Stone Center, explained. “The same is true with the Survivors group...[Group therapy] provides support, validation [and] information. It also helps to reduce the shame around whatever issues a person might be struggling with.”
Group sessions can run from one hour to one hour and 30 minutes. A therapy group is generally comprised of five to eight students and two professional facilitators from the Stone Center. The format of the sessions takes on different forms depending on the level of trust between the students and the length of time the group has been in existence.
“Some groups that have been running longer almost run themselves,” Megan Edwards, Staff Psychologist and Assistant Director of Group and Outreach Activities at the Stone Center, said. “Other groups when they’re getting started, [may have] a little more structure built in.”
The Stone Center has organized support groups for students for over 25 years. Many groups are offered on a recurring basis, depending on the level of student demand at Wellesley. Groups like the “Eating Concerns and Body Image Support Group” are often offered in collaboration with Health Services, and the two institutions regularly work together to raise awareness on campus and advertise the many channels of support available to Wellesley students.
Treating eating disorders
As a result of increased evidence of eating disorders, residential halls have posted flyers inside bathroom stalls to urge students to seek professional attention. Flyers can be found posted in Severance Hall and Shafer Hall, for example.
“It’s a good form of outreach because it ensures absolute confidentiality—no one is going up to any students suspected of an eating disorder and directly accusing them of it,” said Victoria Nguyen ’13, who as a Mental Health Educator (MHE), serves as a peer resource for students with mental health questions or concerns.
However, Nguyen also suggests that the flyers undermine efforts in showing support and guidance.
“Anything that could be construed as singling out a student can be polarizing and may be counterproductive to the goal of encouraging students to actively seek help,” Nguyen said.
“I think [eating concerns are] an issue for lot of students at Wellesley, not only for students themselves, who struggle with body image issues or eating disorders, but also for the people that love them, the people who surround them and for their roommates,” Trevor-Wright said. “So we want to provide support to that group of students.”
The Stone Center follows a specific counseling protocol to treat students with eating disorders.
“Usually with eating issues, we have an on-campus counselor as an on-campus advocate to help students navigate the system,” Cook-Nobles explained. “With eating issues, usually there’s a team approach that includes a therapist counselor, a [medical] intern and a nutritionist.”
Dialogue about sexual assault
Although there has been a history of support groups and educational campaigns related to eating concerns at Wellesley, the “Survivors” support group is a new addition to address sexual assault at the College.
“We typically have not done the Survivors support group because it’s so deep and wide,” Cook-Nobles said. “In a group, you want people to have similar experiences. Even with eating groups, there’s a lot of clinical discussion. Do you have someone who’s struggling with anorexia to be in a group with someone who’s bulimic?”
The Stone Center created the sexual assault Survivors support group as a result of student interest and the changing political climate at Wellesley surrounding sexual abuse. In effect, the Stone Center followed the lead of the College in its effort to increase sexual assault awareness and support on campus.
“Because the college has a new sexual violence policy, there’s been a lot of trainings and orientations on-campus, so we said, ‘well since the college is moving more toward addressing this, let’s have a support group for students,’” Cook-Nobles said.
Many students agree that sexual assault is a growing area of concern at Wellesley and something that should be addressed by the College.
“After seeing ‘Let Me Speak’ during orientation about students who’ve been physically assaulted, [I realized] there’s a segment of the population that really needs that support,” Katherine Schwartz ’15 said. “Having a program that will help people get together with a similar experience [will] help them overcome those obstacles.”