Diversity As a Barrier to Group Psychotherapy Research Paper

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Diversity as a Barrier to Group Psychotherapy

According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, the psychopathology of college students, and their demand for counseling services in university college centers (UCCs) has risen substantially over the last decade (Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 2014). Well, there are number of reasons why this is so. The most significant of these perhaps is that the modern-day college student faces significant psychological concerns in the form of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, suicidal ideation, and history of hospitalization resulting from lifestyle factors. It is reported, for instance, that between 15 and 20% of college students today suffer from depressive symptoms, compared to between 5 and 6% ten years ago (Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 2014). For this reason, most UCCs have adopted and expanded the use of group psychotherapy platforms as an alternative to the traditional individual psychotherapy in a bid to address the rising demand. Peters (2015) was in fact, able to show that in addition to addressing the issue of increasing demand, group psychotherapy platforms accord student-patients an opportunity to receive reinforcement from peers on how to form their adult identities. Worryingly, however, research has shown that these group psychotherapy programs are yet to realize the level of effectiveness inherent in the traditional counseling platforms. This is partly because the barriers that deter students from accessing the same are yet to be adequately addressed. This text is intent on exploring the role of diversity as a potential barrier to group psychotherapy, and devising possible ways of minimizing its effect and improving overall health outcomes.

The Problem

As already mentioned, UCCs are expanding their use of group psychotherapy in counseling owing to its effectiveness in increasing access and providing developmental opportunities to student-patients. However, Lee (2014) and Peters (2015) were able to show that ethnic and racial minorities are less likely than their majority counterparts to attend such groups when referred by their physicians. This is at the least dangerous, given the unprecedented transformation that the country is currently undergoing in its demographic make-up. The U.S. Department of Education (2013), for instance, showed that the percentage of ethnic and racial college students aged 25 and above had risen substantially over the last decade, while that of their white counterparts had declined by approximately 23%. Despite these diverse demographics, however, group work in clinical settings still continues to borrow heavily from attachment and psychodynamic theory, whose development was based primarily on white Americans. This only implies that things in such group settings continue to be done the 'white' way, even as the demographic dynamics change.

Most often, these group psychotherapy platforms fail to take into account that different demographic groups have different expectations and cultural values, which shape their worldviews differently. Separate studies by Harris (2012), Peters (2015) and Suri (2015) were able to show that most minority students either opt out or fail to participate at all in group psychotherapy because they feel that the group activities do not address their specific cultural needs. It is important, therefore, that professionals in UCCs adequately understand the role of culture in shaping college students' expectations and attitudes about group psychotherapy; only then will they be able to respond effectively to the specific needs of their diverse student base in their group therapeutic sessions. The subsequent subsections are focused on showing how diversity acts as a barrier to effective utilization of group psychotherapy by college students.

Significance

This text highlights the multicultural issues that shape college students' attitudes towards group psychotherapy with the aim of providing insight to UCCs and Student Affairs professionals on how to attract and retain minority students in such programs. The facts and findings presented herein shape my very own clinical practice as an individual as they increase my effectiveness as a professional in a multicultural setting and place me in a better position to respond adequately to the needs of my patients. Generally, the findings will go a long way in making group psychotherapy sessions in UCCs more inclusive and favorable for minorities, and this will increase accessibility of mental care and improve the overall health outcomes of the community.

Diversity as a Barrier

Differences in Distress Management Strategies

Literature has demonstrated that the distress management strategies preferred by college students differ with their diversity variables (Suri, 2015). In other words, the distress management strategies that black students prefer are based on their cultural values and differ significantly from those preferred by white students or their Hispanic counterparts. According to Suri (2015), this is due to the fact that one's preferred distress management style is influenced by the demands of their immediate social environment (Suri, 2015). For instance, research has shown that black and Hispanic students, unlike their white counterparts, are more likely to seek out familial and religious support when facing situations of distress (Suri, 2015). This, as Suri (2015) points out is because black and Latino cultures encourage the establishment of strong familial bonds and trusting social groups more than the white culture does. This poses as a potential reason why black and Latino students are less likely to enroll in UCC psychotherapy sessions. The situation is even worse if such sessions are conducted in groups consisting of predominantly white students because then, these students find it difficult to build small trusting groups with others whom they feel share their interests and cultural beliefs (Peters, 2015). To minimize this effect, practitioners need to ensure that they include in their psychotherapy groups a significant number of minority students so that minorities feel like they belong and have the means to form trusting social groups as is part of their cultural norm (Suri, 2015). This, however, begins with understanding the distress management strategies likely to be preferred by students of different cultures; only then can UCC practitioners be able to devise corrective measures for minimizing the effect of the same.

Differences in Expectations of Group Members

Every group therapy participant enters the group with a specific set of expectations for other participants (Suri, 2015). When one is unsure or uncertain about their expectations being met, they are likely to refrain from attending the same. Having a fear that one's expectations will not be met, therefore, poses as a barrier to one's involvement in group psychotherapy (Suri, 2015).

In the case of group members, these expectations will often be based on the concept of racial and ethnic identity. An individual will have expectations in regard to approaches to conflict or even group norms, and their continued participation in the group will depend on how well other members of the group meet these expectations. Students will often expect their group members to be people who share the same ethnicity and race as themselves because they may feel that such members are more likely to share in their cultural value systems and worldviews, and are more likely, therefore, to provide the requisite support needed to resolve their personal problems (Suri, 2015). In the same way, Chinese student-patients may shun from taking part in group sessions that include students from such countries as Japan and Vietnam because they fear that conflict could erupt (Suri, 2015). Suri (2015), for instance, was able to show that Chinese and Japanese, Japanese and Korean, and Chinese and Vietnam students may not collaborate effectively in a group therapy session because of the historical and sociopolitical backgrounds of their countries. It is prudent, therefore, that practitioners in UCC settings increase their awareness of historical factors such as these, which could pose as barriers to effective group psychotherapy.

Besides the composition issue, there also is the issue of how group therapy sessions are conducted. Japanese, black, and Latino students may, for instance, expect that their race or ethnicity is brought up at some point during the session (Suri, 2015). Their level of attachment to the group, in this case, is highly dependent on whether or not this expectation is met. If black participants feel, for instance, that the group activities do not give their race and culture significant recognition, their degree of participation is likely to dwindle. Understanding students' expectations in group psychotherapy sessions is, therefore, crucial towards increasing the attractiveness of such sessions to students.

Differences in Expectations of Group Leaders

Just as they hold expectations about their group members, participants in group psychotherapy also hold certain expectations about their group leader. For instance, members will often expect their group leader to modify their strategy or technique to deal with challenges and cultural differences inherent in the group. Moreover, participants have an expectation that the group leader will be able to deal effectively with conflict to ensure that it does not escalate and influence outcomes negatively (Suri, 2015). Diversity variables shape student expectations in this case just as they do in the case of group members.

For instance, the group leader acts as a symbol of authority -- however, whereas white participants may view a white leader as an equal, Asians (whose culture demands distinct separation of authority) would view them…

Sources Used in Document:

References

Lee, J. (2014). Asian International Students' Barriers to Joining Group Counseling. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 64(4), 444-464.

Perez, S.M., Yang, K.Y., Edelman, M.W. & Jones, J.M. (2014). South-East Asian-American Children: Not the Model Minority. Children of Immigrant Families, 14(2), 121-137.

Peters, S. (2015). Barriers to Group Psychotherapy for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual College Students. Professional Dissertation (Wright State University). Retrieved July 14, 2015 from https://etd.ohiolink.edu/!etd.send_file?accession=wsupsych1434388016&disposition=inline

Riva, M. (2013). Emphasizing Training and Supervision. The Group Psychologist, 23(1), 1-24.

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