09:28 AM

Online Support Groups Helping Houstonians Navigate Roads to Recovery

Students, Professor Working with Populations in Recovery


By Mike Emery

Although the city is slowly reopening, the “new normal” associated with the Coronavirus continues to keep many Houstonians safely distanced.

Regardless of social distancing, many people are connecting with each other through online platforms to talk through the challenges of the pandemic. The University of Houston-Downtown’s College of Public Service launched Solidarity Circles to provide online support groups for community members needing to share their feelings about COVID-19. Now, another session has joined the Circles.

Dr. Judith Harris, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, helped introduce an online support group for community members in recovery. This includes individuals who have struggled (or continue to struggle) with addictive behaviors.

Discussions are led by Social Work students Elizabeth Patterson and Diana Briseno (under the guidance of Dr. Liza Lane, Assistant Professor of Social Work), and Harris, a certified Peer Recovery Coach, joins the discussions to lend support. All participants are granted anonymity and privacy, but are certainly encouraged to join the discussion and share concerns related to the pandemic. Sessions are conducted three days a week.

“We’re all struggling right now,” Harris said. “These online sessions provide a safe place for those in recovery to connect with one another and say what’s on their minds. Being stuck in our homes and without social contact can present real problems for some people. They may want to do something counterproductive to help alleviate their anxieties. This group is about helping people feeling better during this situation through conversation and a sense of community.

“People should feel honest and free,” she said. “This is a place where no one should feel stigmatized. Sometimes, these sessions are fun and filled with laughter, and other times, there’s not a dry eye online.”

Harris is quick to say, however, that her circle is not “group therapy.” There are no licensed counselors participating in these discussions. As a Peer Recovery Coach, she is there for support but not treatment.

Discussions focus on coping with current circumstances, as well as the personal stories of participants, including their respective journeys to recovery.

The effort is Harris’ latest foray into supporting those in recovery. Each semester, her students undergo rigorous training to help them become Peer Recovery Coaches (PRC). Partnering with community organizations such as Santa Maria Hostel, students earn hours to apply toward the 500 credits required to become state certified PRCs. Students also put what they learn into practice by working with area agencies to support others in recovery or those returning to society following incarceration.

Those interested in participating in online Recovery Circles should register through the Solidarity Circles website. 

“I can’t stress how important it is to communicate with each other right now … and more importantly, to simply be available to listen,” Harris said. “This group is a great platform for both communicating and listening … and I'm grateful to be a part of it each week.” 

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.