Counseling center offers support, groups

For the past two years, freshman Natalie Burkle thought she wasn’t thin enough. She grew up with a father who focused heavily on dieting and exercising and insisted she do the same. Over time, she grew self-conscious of her body size.

“My dad has always been a super health freak, and looking back on it, I think it kind of came from that,” Burkle said. “He always pressured me to go to the gym and stay active, and I guess growing up with that and now coming to college and being on my own has freaked me out. It’s made it a lot worse.”

Burkle’s Delta Delta Delta sorority sisters unintentionally contribute to her insecurities when they mention how much they regret eating a meal because it will cause them to gain weight.

“They put themselves down, and doing that kind of thing doesn’t really help,” Burkle said.

Although Burkle still has difficulty embracing her body type, she has made progress with help from The University of Alabama’s Counseling Center. The center aids students looking to achieve academic success and personal growth by providing counseling and psychological services, outreach and consultative services, and training of mental health professionals, according to the center’s site. The Counseling Center also offers various support groups, including the social anxiety support group, tornado support group and the women’s dissertation support group.

“Sometimes we might see a group of students all facing one issue,” Lee Keyes, psychologist and executive director of the Counseling Center, said. “The group modality may be most appropriate for that population, so we will talk about opening up a group and offering it. The types of groups we offer can come and go, depending on demand.”

For the past five months, Burkle has been having one-on-one sessions with Kerry Luke, a staff psychologist at the Counseling Center, in an attempt to battle the negative perception she has of her own body. Luke suggested Burkle join her support group called Body Appreciation and Self-Kindness Group. In January, Burkle became a member.

“Body Appreciation and Self-Kindness is a group that focuses on helping people feel better about their bodies, and also just better about themselves in general,” Luke, who leads B.A.S.K., said. “The group really focuses on body image, but also people who have eating issues.”

During sessions, students openly speak about their week and the obstacles they faced concerning body image. She said her job is to facilitate the dialogue among the group. Burkle said having support from other women facing the same hurdles is comforting and has helped her tackle her issues.

“Your stories are all different, but your pain is the same,” Burkle said.

The Counseling Center also offers a Grief Support Group for those who have lost a loved one. Holly Prewitt, a staff therapist at the Counseling Center, leads the Grief Support Group. She said she approaches every group differently.

“The Grief Support Group has had students come and go over the semester,” Prewitt said. “Because the group has been primarily an open group, meaning that students can start the group at any time during the semester, the group approach varies.”

She said the mere fact there is a group is a sign it is effective in helping student cope with their loss.

“The success of all groups waxes and wanes with student interest and demand. The fact that we have a group up and running is an indication of its success,” Prewitt said.

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