At the start of the 2018-2019 academic year, the University of Indianapolis Student Counseling Center began to offer new support services for students. These new services include two support groups, a students of color group and a queer student group, and a new workshop series called RIO, which stands for Recognition, Insight and Openness. The RIO workshops began this semester, while the support groups started last semester.
According to the Director of the Student Counseling Center and Staff Psychologist Kelly Miller, the Counseling Center provides several, comprehensive services for students. These services include individual therapy, group therapy and workshops, along with outreach and preventative-type training. Miller said that the counseling services are free because the university prioritizes mental health for students and that students should think of counseling as a place they can go to talk about certain issues and expect for their discussions to be confidential.
Miller said that students often can get caught up by their classes and experience stress as a result of trying to keep up with their course load. This can also lead to students forgetting to take care of themselves, according to Miller.
“While academics are really important, their [students] mental health is equally, if not more, important,” Miller said. “[This] is in terms of being able to stay balanced, being able to do the best work that they can and recognize that that’s something that doesn’t have to be traded off for doing well in school. In fact they are going to, most likely be better in school if they tend to their mental health.”
The new support group services are open to those on campus who are a part of these labeled groups. The purpose of the groups is to give their members a voice and provide a safe space to talk amongst their peers who may be in similar situations, Staff Psychologist Colin Rak-Dietz said. According to Rak-Dietz, these two programs were added due to an increase in demand for counseling within the communities.
According to Rak-Dietz, these support groups were created because of the importance of having safe space specifically for these individuals. This is to ensure that they have a support system of other peers that have shared circumstances.
“While academics are really important, their mental health is equally, if not more important.”
Rak-Dietz said that he and his fellow clinicians stand in as facilitators for the support groups, while also offering their own professional advice. This is because the groups are supposed to be peer-supportive and student-driven according to Rak-Dietz. The topics discussed are those of which the students want to talk about.
“In my queer support group, folks come in all the time with questions about coming out on campus or coming out to family back home,” Rak-Dietz said. “We talk about holidays and how to navigate going back home. ”
The groups provide a support that is likely to be more understanding about certain situations, but they aren’t the only topics for the groups, according to Rak-Dietz. He said they also talk about general school topics or anything else that might be causing stress for them to get advice from their peers.
“[It’s] the same with the students of color support group. Folks will come in with questions about finding the local markets that sell the food that you’re used to in your culture or what hair stylist to go to that will accommodate your hair type and having other students understand those questions and get it,” Rak-Dietz said. “There are also just the everyday student stressors that we talk about in that group, but there’s that shared commonality and context of students of color or queer students.”
Rak-Dietz said he realizes that many of the students who identify as being a member of one or both of these groups have struggled to navigate different spaces around campus. He said the support groups are for providing advice, a safe space and a friendly environment for these student oriented groups, whether that be through providing a space that is not intimidating to speak up or support to adjusting to Indianapolis, the groups aim to be as welcoming as possible.
The Counseling Center has also added a workshop series called RIO. It is being offered in three-week increments, with one hour sessions throughout the semester, according to Rak-Dietz. The sessions are structured as curriculum-driven and are designed to give students the skills needed to address a variety of concerns that they may have.
“[We cover] anything from stress management to depression, anxiety, improving focus and concentration, improving relationships,” Rak-Dietz said. “You name it and this workshop series is going to help with it….What RIO teaches are skills to better address and manage those unwanted internal reactions that we have: ‘How do I relate differently to those thoughts or feelings? How do I manage stress in my life? How do I navigate through anxiety or certain stressors, the natural stuff that comes up in life?’”
Rak-Dietz said that RIO is based out of acceptance and commitment therapy. This type of therapy, he said, is an evidence-based practice that uses mindfulness practices to teach skills. He said that the program is great for students, even those who have no background in therapy, because it creates an understanding of what psychologists at the Counseling Center do.
At the workshops, students are given a packet of information that work on in a group, Rak-Dietz said. After the completion of all three workshops, of which students are strongly encouraged to attend all of them, students can keep the packet to help them continue to develop their skills.
Rak-Dietz said that he thought the workshop would be helpful for students and would give them more insight into their thoughts and feelings. Everyone navigates through their internal thought processes in their own unique way, he said, and the first response, as humans, is to try to push feelings away, deny them or distract themselves in that moment.
“It’s confidential, it’s free, there’s nothing that would be negative in that.”
Rak-Dietz said that by teaching skills they cover as part of RIO, it can help students manage painful experiences by understanding themselves. This also helps them gain more control over their internal reactions to external events, according to Rak-Dietz.
“Long-term, that stuff doesn’t really go away and so what we are teaching in this workshop series is life skills,” Rak-Dietz said. “We all have negative thoughts at times, we all have feelings of sadness or anger that we don’t like. But, how do we learn to sit with that discomfort and lean into those experiences, so to speak, to have a different outcome, so that we’re not constantly just trying to run away from our problems or suppress our problems. What ends up happening is that it comes back to bite us, and it comes back stronger in the end.”
Rak-Dietz said that counselors at colleges across the country are seeing higher levels of stress in their students and that UIndy is no-exception to this trend. This was one of the factors in the center’s decision to have a RIO group, the students of color and queer students support groups, among others.
“We want to offer additional tools like RIO and a lot of these other workshop series or groups that we have running this semester that are different and unique to building up that program [the counseling center] here at UIndy,” Rak-Dietz said. “We can serve more students and better serve the students here [and] to handle stress and the increased mental health concerns we are seeing in college students.”
According to Miller, there are several ways that counseling can benefit students and those benefits can depend on the individual. Over the past semester, the Counseling Center has added more services, including adding more drop-in workshops, where students do not have to register beforehand, and doubled the number of groups, according to Miller.
“Groups are just another way they’re looking for support,” Miller said. “There’s a wide variety of groups that are offered that either depending on what’s going on, and that’s where the personal assessment comes in, the clinician might suggest ‘I think this would be a really good group for you right now.’”
In order to be a part of therapy, students have to take an initial assessment. Depending on what students determine with their clinician, they could either participate in individual or group therapy.
According to Miller, mental health should be kept up because it goes hand-in-hand with academic success for students. He said students can forget about homework and taking care of themselves, at times. Therapy may be a way for students to catch up and remind themselves of their responsibilities. According to Miller, being able to take care of mental and physical health will help students succeed academically because one cannot separate out the other.
“My encouragement may be if they feel they need it, because again, not everyone necessarily needs to go to the counseling center for their mental health needs, but for those who do though, it’s really worth at least checking into,” Miller said “It’s confidential, it’s free, there’s nothing that would be negative in that.”