Therapy for College Students

Why Therapy Is Important for College Students

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.

When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.”

~Fred Rogers

by Gavin Hannegan, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo undergraduate intern, supervised by Dr. Hannah Roberts

College life is exhilarating! You’re able to explore your passions and fine-tune what you want your career to look like. It’s a chance for new connections, new experiences, and newfound freedom. Sometimes, all of these new opportunities can feel overwhelming. They may create struggles or exacerbate those that were already present. Juggling everything that college life has to offer can be challenging, but you can always ask for help when you need it! Therapy can be a great resource to help you navigate this chapter of your life. For those who might be unfamiliar with therapy for college students, we wanted to address a few common concerns about therapy to help you feel more comfortable.

Why Would I Need Therapy?

The responsibilities of a college student can feel demanding. On top of academic obligations, you also may have to adjust to living away from home and paying for your own needs. Each of these factors have been linked to increases in depression, anxiety, and stress among college students. Certain types of college students are more likely to experience these increases, such as juniors who are not provided with as much school-based support as first-years or seniors (Beiter et al., 2015). Current students also had to transition from high school to college during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time period that substantially worsened students’ mental health concerns (Lee et al., 2021). Having such high levels of stress or anxiety can impair your ability to fulfill your duties as a college student. One study found that students with ongoing mental health problems saw a decrease in their GPA compared to those without these problems (Bruffaerts et al., 2018). When left untreated, mental health concerns can amplify the already stressful roles that college students have to fulfill. Therapy can provide you with tools to manage these responsibilities, while also offering self-care strategies to address the stress in life. For those of you who feel like they don’t need therapy yet, consider that therapy can also be a way to help you prepare against future stressful events.

Does therapy really work?

Yes, but it depends on the type of therapy you’re participating in and the strength of your relationship with your therapist. When thinking about scheduling an appointment with a new therapist, it is important to make sure that their practices are evidence-based. Examples of evidence-based therapy for college students at Thrive San Luis Obispo include:

  • Interpersonal Therapy
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Gestalt Therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Mindfulness-Based Interventions
  • Behavioral Activation

Therapies that are supported through research tend to be more reliable than other types of clinical treatment. When participating in these treatments, many college students experience at least moderate reductions in symptoms of trauma, depression, or anxiety (Huang et al., 2018; McIndoo et al., 2016). Each of the Thrive SLO Therapists gives you a sense of the types of treatment they use on their profile in the Meet Us section. You can also email or talk to a therapist directly if you’re still unsure.

Successful therapy also requires active participation from both you and the therapist. This means that a therapist won’t necessarily tell you what to do, but will rather work with you to develop strategies that best fit your individual needs and level of comfort. Forming this relationship may take some time, and your ideal relationship may not be with the first therapist you meet with. Once this relationship is established, your therapist can help you feel satisfied with your treatment (McIndoo et al., 2016). Instead of asking, “What’s wrong with me?”, therapy often helps you answer the question of “How can I become my best self?”

I’m Nervous About Starting Therapy

That’s okay! You are not alone in your feelings. If you have some reservations about seeing a therapist, it could be helpful to reflect on where these feelings are coming from. Globally, college students underutilize forms of mental health treatment, with one study reporting that nearly 75% of college students would not use these resources even if they were experiencing clinical symptoms of depression or anxiety. Some of the most common reasons for not wanting to go to therapy include the desire to fix problems on one’s own and feeling embarrassed about therapy (Ebert et al., 2019). The stigma surrounding therapy for college students can feel intimidating, but know that you are still deserving of this care. You can address these feelings in the following ways:

  • Take a screening test to more accurately identify the next steps towards treatment.
  • Feel free to keep your relationship with therapy private for as long as you need.
  • Be honest with your therapist about your fears regarding therapy.

Allow yourself to feel what you need to feel at first. Know that your therapist is here to help you, and here at Thrive SLO, we specialize in working with college students. All of our therapists they have worked with hundreds of other college students who have experienced similar concerns. These nerves are healthy. Even considering therapy shows that you care about your well-being. Therapy doesn’t define your college experience; it helps you enjoy it.

Have more questions or feel like you need supportive therapy as a college or university student? Schedule a session with one of our therapists today! You can schedule online here!

We hope you enjoyed this blog post! Have more topics you’d like us to blog about? Contact us and we’ll be sure to include your topic in a future post!


Beiter, R., Nash, R., McCrady, M., Rhoades, D., Linscomb, M., Clarahan, M., & Sammut, S. (2015). The prevalence and correlates of depression, anxiety, and stress in a sample of college students. Journal of Affective Disorders, 173, 90-96.

Bruffaerts, R., Mortier, P., Kiekens, G., Auerback, R. P., Cuijpers, P., Demyttenaere, K., Green, J. G., Nock, M. K., & Kessler, R. C. (2018). Mental health problems in college freshmen: Prevalence and academic functioning. Journal of Affective Disorders, 225, 97-103.

Ebert, D. D., Mortier, P., Kaehlke, F., Bruffaerts, R., Baumeister, H., Auerback, R. P., Alonso, J., Vilagut, G., Martínez, K. U., Lochner, C., Cuijpers, P., Kuechler, A. M., Green, J., Hasking, P., Lapsley, C., Sampson, N. A., & Kessler, R. C. (2019). Barriers of mental health treatment utilization among first-year college students: First cross-national results from the WHO World Mental Health International College Student Initiative. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 28(2), 1-14.

Huang, J., Nigatu, Y. T., Smail-Crevier, R., Zhang, X., & Wang, J. (2018). Interventions for common mental health problems among university and college students: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 107, 1-10.

Lee, J., Jeong, H. J., & Kim, S. (2021). Stress, anxiety, and depression among undergraduate students during the COVID-19 pandemic and their use of mental health services. Innovative Higher Education, 46, 519-538.

McIndoo, C. C., File, A. A., Preddy, T., Clark, C. G., Hopko, D. R. (2016). Mindfulness-based therapy and behavioral activation: A randomized controlled trial with depressed college students. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 77, 118-128.

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