CU Denver Psychologist Offers Group Therapy For Colorado Small Business Owners
During the third group therapy session, doctoral students from the University of Colorado Denver Psychology clinic asked a group of small business owners to identify stressors they can and cannot control during the pandemic.
In the ‘can’t control’ category: other restrictions on businesses, whether children would return to distance learning, who would or would not get sick. In the “can control” category: preparing children to return to school and buying school supplies, communicating with their workplace about changing standards, wearing masks and social distancing.
Next, therapists asked how business owners can match their coping skills to their stressors. It was a light bulb moment for those struggling financially and emotionally since the COVID-19 shutdown last March.
Business owners have learned that they deal with controllable stressors by focusing on problems (problem solving, decision making, research, goal setting). Whereas uncontrollable and irreparable stressors need an outlet through emotion-driven adaptation (exercise, journaling, chatting with friends, meditation).
“It was surprising and beneficial to a lot of people,” said one student. “A lot of business owners have said they’ve never heard of coping skills this way. “
Stress management group therapy sessions are just one step in Boost Colorado, a nonprofit, voluntary organization dedicated to helping Colorado small businesses recover and thrive. The program is a lifeline and CU Denver psychologist Kristin kilbourn, PhD, and his doctoral students help as many people as possible.
You’re not alone
In a June Wellness Wednesday panel titled, “You’re not alone,” Venture capitalist and president of Energize Colorado, Brad Feld, addressed the “three crises” of the pandemic: the health crisis, the economic crisis, the mental health crisis and – there is actually a fourth, adds he said – the crisis of racial inequalities. The heap of crises meant business owners were going to need all the help they could get. Energize Colorado, started by Governor Jared Polis and led by Feld, wanted to confront them immediately.
As of last May, the Energize Colorado Gap Fund has provided $ 31 million in small business loans and grants to help small businesses across the state. Through the volunteer efforts of Colorado business owners, managers, professionals, and investors, the nonprofit also provides mentoring, business advice, professional services, and mental health resources. Group therapy and individual sessions have been very successful.
It’s no wonder that therapy sessions now have a waiting list. Throughout 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the country is experiencing high levels of anxiety, depression, fear, worry and an increase in emergency line calls due of the pandemic. Unhealthy behaviors are on the increase, and more people than ever are having trouble sleeping and concentrating.
denver psychologist Terri finney, PhD, Senior Psychologist for Energize Colorado mental health resources, recruited Kilbourn earlier this spring. Kilbourn, associate professor of clinical health psychology at CU Denver, supervises doctoral students who see patients at the psychology clinic. But it was her work on stress management in psychosocial oncology, cancer survival, and palliative care that drew Finney to her. Kilbourn knows how to help people navigate a radical new landscape.
Since May, Killbourn has worked with the Mental Health Team to create a free and effective group therapy program that focuses on stress management for small business owners in Colorado.
“I taught a group therapy class this fall and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t this be a great opportunity? ”Said Kilbourn. “I knew my students could lead these stress management groups. They would receive excellent training while helping the community. This ended up helping them also overcome their sense of helplessness in the face of the pandemic. “
Bypass the stigma of therapy
Upon Kilbourne’s arrival, Energize Colorado began offering up to five free therapy sessions through one of its 100 professional volunteers. The nonprofit targets four populations that historically have had more difficulty obtaining capital and aid: businesses owned by women, minorities, veterans, and rural businesses with 25 employees or less. Recruitment was not easy. The stigma of therapy kept the numbers low to begin with, even with their free Wednesday wellness seminars.
“They weren’t very busy,” Finney said. “We wanted to standardize what was going on and let business owners know that they were not alone. It turns out that not many people want to spend another 45 minutes in front of a computer.
But they started sending emails to everyone who signed up using the Gap Fund. The sessions started to fill up and the team realized that they could reach more people with group sessions. And because they labeled the program “stress management” as opposed to “therapy,” the spaces filled up quickly.
CU Denver students co-lead the virtual four-part stress management groups made up of restaurateurs, retailers, early childhood educators, dance studio leaders and travel agency owners. Throughout the sessions, therapists explain how to deal with stress, identify distorted thoughts, use social support, and learn cognitive behavioral techniques.
Most importantly, small business owners find community and support from others who face the same uncertainty day in and day out. Participants from rural communities did not take this connection for granted.
“They told us they were extremely grateful to be able to participate in the groups,” said another student. “They said they felt very isolated where they lived and that without our program they would not have had this opportunity otherwise. Technology has given us a wider reach.
Many business owners spoke of their own distress, but also of their concern for their employees. They hoped to come back and share the mental health skills they had learned.
“We expected distress, but most of all I was surprised at how resilient people were,” said one student. “It’s work: we ask them to acquire skills, to think about them and to apply them. They are engaged, interested and doing something new during a pandemic. “
“People have stayed engaged,” Finney said. “Usually you see a dropout rate, but we had a really good turnout. Everyone who registered showed up. They stayed and gave us great feedback.
Because there was such a demand, therapists also organize larger workshops.
Pioneers of virtual group therapy
This transition to virtual therapy has been a learning experience for therapists and their clients. At first, students taught small business owners how to use Zoom, and then had to explain that this was also their first time doing virtual therapy.
“There is really very little research on virtual groups and very little in the clinical field,” Kilbourn said. “We had to dig to find what we could, so this class had to innovate and think on their feet. They are that first generation and the next group of leaders who will teach others how to do this.
For a profession that relies on non-verbal cues to gauge what people aren’t saying, a virtual Brady-Bunch-grid Zoom group presents challenges.
“The majority of our communication is non-verbal, so removing it took a period of adaptation,” said another student. “In a large group, identifying who has something to say, who wants to talk next, who said something that they want to discuss more… Trying to get those non-verbal cues through a screen is something I always work on. .
“When you organize face-to-face groups, there’s that emotion in the room,” Kilbourn said. “Our brains can take in what’s going on – verbal, non-verbal – and that helps you build group cohesion. For example, when someone turns off a camera, we need to check with them because we need to determine if they are crying because of their emotions or if they turn it off because their child has just entered the room.
They discovered that the key is to break the responsibilities between two co-therapists. One can lead the group, the other can be in charge of the chat to check on individuals throughout the session. And in a large group, it can be helpful to use a chat room for smaller, more open discussions.
The group had to invent rules as they went along. The group uses the first session to address them. They ask members to be present (unlike a patient who decided to call while driving) and discuss the challenges of Zoom therapy. A big challenge is the loss of privacy. When a therapist cannot control the environment, it is difficult to ensure confidentiality in the same way.
“We can only see what the camera is showing us,” Kilbourn explains. “We can’t see if there are other people in the room listening. “
Post-crisis mental health symptoms
For all the growing pains, there was a lot of gratitude on both sides. Several students say their interest in group interventions has solidified. Helping several people at once – and seeing them connect and help each other – had a big impact on the Psychology Clinic group.
The new set of tools they’ve given to small business owners should help get through the next stages of the pandemic, vaccines and the slow reopening, but everyone’s job is far from over, even when the pandemic hits. ballast.
“We keep repeating that even when you come out of a crisis – when you come out of a fight or flight – there is usually an increase in mental health symptoms,” Finney said.
And there is one category of business owners who still don’t get help or ask for help: rural men.
“We are going through a difficult time because they are isolated and have the spirit of I do not need anyone,“Finney said.” This is why we are seeing more suicides in rural areas where they have more access to guns. “
Their goal now is to increase the number of therapists and target rural populations. A recent round of funding has just arrived to help their cause.
“We’ll see if we can partner with the Professional Bull Riders association,” says Finney. “If some of these men are willing to jump on the back of a three ton bull, I think we can get them to try therapy.”