‘What It’s Like … ’ to find a support group that reflects student experience

Students will have the opportunity to share their experiences with the semester-long “What It’s Like …” support group series. Graphic by Piper Bailey

HALLIE ANDERSON | STAFF REPORTER | hcanderson@butler.edu 

A new series of support groups has entered the scene for Butler Counseling and Consultation Services (CCS). The support groups discuss specific issues that people who identify in various ways may face, making the topics of discussion much more focused rather than broad topics such as identity. 

A support group is a mental health resource for people with a common identity or experience who want to come together to share these experiences or receive help, support or comfort with the guidance of a facilitator. According to Mayo Clinic, support groups can help with feelings of loneliness or isolation and improve coping skills. Support groups also help participants gain a sense of empowerment, hope and control over their lives. 

CCS hosted its first support group meeting of its “What It’s Like …” support group series on Friday, Feb. 23 in room 120 of the Health and Recreation Complex. The series will continue the rest of this semester and includes five support group meetings covering a wide variety of topics including living while struggling with financial insecurity, family concerns, being a transgender student in Indiana, being a BIPOC student at a predominantly white institution and facing oppression. The support groups will occur every other Friday from 2:30-3 p.m. through the remainder of the semester. 

This is not the first time CCS has offered support groups like this. The idea to host support groups centered around minority experiences was born from CCS’s relationship with the Efroymson Diversity Center. Assistant Director of CCS Dr. Casiana Warfield established this relationship with her “Let’s Talk” drop-in consultation service. Warfield makes herself available in the Diversity Center on Mondays at 10 a.m. and Thursdays at 1 p.m. to talk to students who may not otherwise go to the Health and Recreation Complex for a therapy appointment. 

Once Warfield intentionally established a CCS presence in the Diversity Center, staff members in the Diversity Center began to work with Warfield to develop a students of color support group that was well-attended. 

Drawing inspiration from the students of color support group, Butler LGBTQIA+ Alliance requested an LGBTQIA+ support group for students during a period of anti-queer legislation nationwide in 2023. Warfield said she noticed students consistently attended these first support groups, so she started more support groups across a broader range of topics students might experience. However, these new groups were not well-attended because the themes were broad and left students uncertain about what topics were going to be discussed. Warfield created the “What It’s Like …” series in response to student feedback on these initial support groups. 

“I did a survey of students that might spend time at the [Diversity Center] or not and asked them, ‘What sort of services are you looking for, what sort of themes do you notice in your mental health that you need support for?’ and that helped me develop some themes for the five support groups that I’m offering,” Warfield said. 

Before student feedback, support groups were based around identity groups such as the students of color support group and the LGBTQIA+ support group. Now that these five themes have a narrower scope, they are more experience-focused. These specific groups help inform students about the topics they will discuss in the support group. For example, rather than creating a support group topic for transgender students, Warfield encourages transgender students to share their experiences about living in the state of Indiana. Similarly, Warfield created a support group for BIPOC students to share their experiences at a predominantly white institution. 

Mikala Lain, assistant director of the Diversity Center, works with Warfield to ensure students who spend time in the Diversity Center have access to different types of existing mental health resources on campus. Lain noticed after last semester’s poor attendance of her previous support groups that the most significant barrier for students attending group-led therapy sessions was the uncertainty of going to one in the first place. 

“A lot of what we heard [from students] is it’s hard to jump over that hurdle of being worried about going [to a support group] in the first place if you don’t know what to expect, or you don’t know what that conversation is going to be about,” Lain said. “So [students] recommended having more specific terminology for what’s going to happen or specific topics that we’re going to cover.” 

Lain and Warfield hope to see attendance increase with the more specific support group themes focused on student experience. Regardless of attendance, Warfield maintains that so long as students express a desire for these support groups, they are here to stay. 

The two collaborated to make these support groups as accessible to students as possible since the support groups exist for the students themselves. The conversations in these support groups are open-ended and guided by participants. While Warfield might begin a support group with a prompt like a video or TED Talk and encourage conversations with guiding questions, the conversations in the support groups are dictated by the students who attend them. 

Sophomore health sciences major Kamarie Fuller-McDade enjoys this method of sharing experiences and relating to peers without heavy instruction or guidance. They view the practice as an introduction to other types of therapy. 

“If you’re interested in therapy [but have reservations] … don’t think of it like therapy,” Fuller-McDade said. “Just think of it as a group of people talking because it’s literally what it is. We all just talk about experience. I remember last semester … I went to the LGBTQ one, and I just loved talking to the people there and then listening to other people’s experience[s].” 

Warfield created these support groups to make spaces where students could share their experiences. She hopes that by assigning topics to these support groups, students can continue to better relate to one another, increasing the benefits for each participant. 

“I really hope to create more spaces for those students to talk about what impacts them emotionally on campus,” Warfield said. “[And help students] talk about what barriers there are to taking care of themselves that are institutional or interpersonal or systemic, and just to really find community amongst each other.” 

The next support group will focus on the topic of “struggling with family concerns,” and the session will take place March 8, 2:30-3 p.m. in Health and Recreation Complex room 120. The series will continue every other week on Fridays 2:30-3 p.m. until the end of the semester. Each session is facilitated by a licensed psychologist, and Lilo the therapy dog will be present. To RSVP, email Warfield at cwarfiel@butler.edu, but walk-ins are welcome. 

Schedule of support groups: 

March 8: Struggling with family concerns 

March 22: Being a transgender student (in Indiana) 

April 5: Being a BIPOC student at a predominantly white institution 

April 19: Being oppressed (due to racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, classism and religious prejudice) 


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