• Steven Morano

Pandemic Support Group

The COVID-19 pandemic has shutdown the country in one form or another for the past eight months. This pandemic has also not spared the Mount’s faculty and students, as there are effects of this every day with social distancing guidelines in place and whole buildings being tested for COVID-19. But one of the more important things that the pandemic has interrupted in the past months is many in-person counseling services for the mental health of students. However, the counseling department has enacted a Pandemic Support Group for students to meet with counselors during the pandemic. This program has been used to relieve stress from students during this turbulent time of school.

Alesha Leonard, the Assistant University Counselor, has been the head of the new Pandemic Support Group that allows students to talk about the stress of going to school during a pandemic. Leonard said, “Our Pandemic Support Group was created with hopes of creating a safe space for students to come together and share their experiences related to COVID-19.” By doing this, Leonard has created a safe and consistent environment to come and talk about stress and the experience of going to school right now. “At each meeting, the counselors will provide guided questions to facilitate a student-led discussion.” Leonard went on to say.

The group zoom started on Oct. 8 and they meet every Thursday night at 5:15 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. The group plans to meet at the same time for every Thursday night until the second to last night students are allowed on campus via Zoom. “Each week will have a different topic; this upcoming week’s topic will be cabin fever.” Leonard went on to say.

On the question of how many people have shown up to these groups, Leonard said, “We are hoping for a better turn out this week! Our first group had four participants, which was our highest number of students to join.” With five more weeks to go in the semester, the number of participants in these group Zoom calls looks to be trending upwards.

“As far as the group is concerned, it is definitely more difficult to communicate via Zoom, as I’m sure you’ve already experienced in your classes,” Leonard said on the question of how the group has been affected due to meeting via Zoom. Leonard went on to say, “For individual counseling, we are still offering in-person sessions for those who feel safe enough to participate.” Students who still want to meet in person with a counselor instead over a Zoom call with a group can still meet with a counselor privately with social distancing.

But the real question about these weekly Zoom groups is this: are they effective in relieving stress? Leonard said, “As far as effectiveness is concerned, I believe any student who logs onto a session will walk away with more knowledge about how to manage their stresses related to the pandemic.” Hopefully, with the work that Leonard has done so far, the further expansion of student involvement in this group and the possibility of the group continuing into the Spring semester, it will provide the stress relief that is needed during this time in the history of the University.

On the basis of these types of support groups affecting the Department of Counseling Services as a whole, Gerald Rooth, Director of Counseling Services, said, “Group counseling is something that we in Counseling Services have been trying to promote for a while now. In most semesters over the past years, we have offered groups on different topics at different times. Sometimes students respond well to a group, and other times there is not as much interest as we had hoped. To some degree, that is the challenge of programming on a college campus. Up until this point, all groups have been offered in-person. While the use of Zoom this year has perpetuated the physical distance that we have from one another in responsibly dealing with COVID-19, it has also increased student access to all services (both individual and group counseling), which has been of great benefit.” Rooth went on to say, “Our group numbers overall remain lower than I would like on a consistent basis; nevertheless, I believe that group counseling will become a bigger part of our treatment offerings over the next few years. I find great benefit in the peer normalization and support that group counseling offers, and I hope that it continues to gain popularity here at the Mount.”

But what is a student’s perspective on the support group? Sally Nichols, C’24, said, “I would go to one. Luckily though I haven’t been stressed in school because of the pandemic.” Whether it be a group surrounding the upcoming Presidential election or this group surrounding the current world climate, the Mount has multiple options when it comes to the Counseling Department.

If you want to get in contact with Alesha Leonard in regards to this Pandemic Support Group, please contact her at a.r.leonard@msmary.edu.