The experience of participation in a brief cognitive behavioural group therapy for psychologically distressed female university students


  • J. Bernhardsdottir MS RN,

    Assistant Professor, Head of the Academic Field of Psychiatric Nursing, Corresponding author
    1. Department of Nursing, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland
    2. Landspitali-The National University Hospital of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland
    • Correspondence:

      J. Bernhardsdottir

      Department of Nursing

      University of Iceland

      Eirberg, Eiríksgata 34

      Reykjavik 101



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    1. School of Nursing, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA
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  • I. Skärsäter PhD RN

    1. The Institute of Health and Care Science, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
    2. School of Social and Health Sciences, Halmstad University, Halmstad, Sweden
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Accessible summary

  • This study shows that increased understanding of psychological distress, more positive and balanced thinking, and emotional and behavioural control may help female students reduce or prevent elevated psychological distress during stressful times.
  • The most beneficial components of this brief cognitive behavioural group therapy, delivered in four sessions, include a combination of education, group discussions and work with thought records. A therapeutic relationship and environment also needs to be emphasized to enhance a positive and non-judgmental tone in the groups.
  • Based on the results of this study, five cognitive behavioural group sessions delivered by mental health nurses and a booster session are recommended as the cognitive behavioural skills require practice and reflection to enhance effectiveness.
  • Brief cognitive behavioural group therapy targeted to students' psychological needs should be developed and offered by nurses at university mental health services.


The aim of this study was to elucidate the experience of participation in four sessions of cognitive behavioural group therapy for psychological distress for female university students' (n = 19), aged 22–45 years. Data were gathered with semi-structured interviews during March and April 2008 and analysed according to thematic content analysis. The results identified four themes: ‘Gaining knowledge and understanding’, ‘Becoming more balanced and positive in thinking’, ‘Feeling more self-confident and in control’ and ‘Opportunities for practice and in-depth reflections’. Future recommendations include an increase in sessions from four to five, with one booster session to follow-up on newly acquired skills.