In combining her passion for knitting and counseling, Dr. Briana Luppino, director of outreach and staff psychologist at Lehigh University Counseling & Psychological Services, quite literally created a tight-knit community on Lehigh’s campus in 2019.
The Knit 2gether group is run by the counseling services office and the Health Advancement and Prevention Strategies Office. Luppino said the handful of self-selected students meet every Monday from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. to reap the psychological benefits of knitting while connecting with other students outside of their immediate circles.
“Knitting was a part of my life and my own identity,” Luppino said as she fiddled with her knitting needles.
During the interview process for her position at Lehigh, Luppino said she discussed her passion for knitting with the director of the counseling and psychological services at the time, Dr. Ian Birky. He asked Luppino if she had ever considered knitting with her clients — something she had never thought of before.
Luppino said she then approached Jenna Papaz, director of the Health Advancement and Prevention Strategies Office. Together, they introduced the group to forge a sense of community through a shared activity.
“Essentially, we’re looking to bring people together who want to learn a skill, who want to destress and want to talk through some of their experiences,” Papaz said.
Luppino said the group filled up immediately and has been running ever since.
“I’ve never had a center who was open to supporting it or actually doing something like that,” Luppino said. “I was fortunate that the rest of the staff was super on board.”
Knit 2gether follows a class-like schedule, holding two sessions per semester, each session meeting six to eight times. Luppino said the sessions provide a safe space for students to share what’s on their mind while receiving free knitting instruction and supplies.
Luppino said most students join the group with no prior knitting experience, so the format allows students to learn the skill and continue to improve throughout the length of the session.
She said some students enjoy sticking around for multiple sessions once they get the hang of it.
Luppino said this nontraditional method of therapy can be more approachable for students who generally feel uncomfortable seeking out counseling, whether it’s due to societal pressure, social stigma or religious or cultural reasons.
She said the group has attracted athletes, students in Greek life, international students and graduate students.
“You get everybody,” Papaz said, “It’s a really cool, rich blend of people from all walks of life at Lehigh.”
Luppino said knitting served as a fitting activity for its therapeutic effects: through the repetitive, bilateral movement, the mind and body enter a state of flow, which is why some research compares it to practicing yoga.
“Any sort of crafting or form of art and expression really helps folks to understand and accept their identity, who they are, what sort of space they want to take up, how they want to show up in the world,” Luppino said.
Beyond identity formation, she said, the activity can help people tolerate things better.
Luppino said while the act itself may not lessen sadness, a creative outlet allows for better management and toleration of stress.
She said the ability to cope with and manage negative emotions plays a big role in life satisfaction and longevity.
Papaz said the act of simply completing something from start to finish can be rewarding. Through learning to knit, students get a chance to learn about themselves as well as other meaningful life skills.
Talia Feinberg, ‘23, has heard about the group on campus and wants to get involved before graduating.
“I love how UCSP is taking a creative stance on typical counseling groups,” she said.
The first session has already filled up for this semester, but there is a waitlist to join the second session, which will start in mid-October.
“I would encourage everyone to give it a try,” Papaz said. “What are you going to lose from it?”