Group therapy to combat anxiety and depression



Isabelle Miclette (left) Robyn Vertongen and Mieke Sachsenweger.

The popularity of the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy groups last year prompted the centre to expand its service to provide more group therapy programmes this semester – two each for anxiety and depression, with day and evening options available over eight weeks.

Coordinator Robyn Vertongen, a senior clinical psychologist, says although a certain amount of anxiety is normal, help is available if symptoms become overwhelming. Ms Vertongen says fearing the worst will happen, experiencing a sudden sense of panic and feeling self-conscious are among common anxiety symptoms.

Depression can result from a build-up of life’s stresses, she says. “Financial strain, losses and immigration are common precursors to depression among people we see at the clinic. People often think they should just shake it off but find that this is more difficult than it sounds. CBT teaches skills and coping strategies to help people deal with anxiety or depression and the patterns they develop around these, so that it doesn’t take over their lives.”

The therapy also provides a sense of normality by helping people to understand that a certain amount of anxiety is a function of our evolutionary adaptation and a necessary survival mechanism. Facilitator and registered clinical psychologist Mieke Sachsenweger says feedback from last year’s participants highlights the benefits of group therapy. Sharing common difficulties meant less likelihood of feeling alone and acquiring a “toolkit” of skills helped manage anxiety or depression, Ms Sachsenweger says. The non-judgemental approach of the therapists was also appreciated by participants, who have reported being able to enjoy an improved quality of life, she says.

One participant reported learning to cope much better with what he described as “frightening” anxiety. “The group helped me to realise that I was not alone with my anxiety. I benefited greatly by learning from the experiences of others and simply by sharing in their support. The Massey facilitators were excellent, empathetic and welcoming. Most importantly they provided a range of relevant, simple tools that I could start using right away.”

The courses will be run by Ms Vertongen, who supervises cognitive behaviour therapy trainees at the School of Psychology, along with with co-facilitators Ms Sachsenweger and seventh-year clinical psychology intern Isabelle Miclette. Dr John Berks, a psychiatrist from Community Alcohol and Drug Services on sabbatical at the school, is also part of the team.

The psychology centre is based in Albany village and provides a range of community programmes.
For more information call 09-441-8175 or email [email protected]