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Frequently Asked Questions by Staff Supporting Students

PLEASE NOTE The Counselling Service is currently undergoing changes through the summer 2019 - please visit our new home in Senate House on central campus or call 02476 575570 for details

Q: What about mitigating circumstances involving the Counselling Service?

A: If a student has been making use of the Counselling Service and it is apparent that the emotional/psychological disturbance is impacting on their capacity to perform to their academic potential, the counsellor working with the particular student may be able to write a statement to confirm and validate the student's request that their emotional/psychological circumstances be taken into consideration (for example when considering a request for an extension to a hand-in date or in the grading of an exam mark). This will be a simple statement of attendance to verify their engagement with the Counselling Service that the student can add to their request for their mitigating circumstances to be considered.

If you or the student feel there is a valid claim for mitigating circumstances to be considered, it is important to consider these points:

  • If a student is currently engaged in counselling at the time of requiring a Confirmation of Attendance Statement, encourage the student to discuss the situation with the counsellor at the start of their next counselling appointment to allow time in their appointment to discuss their request.
  • If the student has worked with a counsellor previously, however is not currently engaged in sessions, they could consider emailing the service to request a Confirmation of Attendance Statement – remembering that it is is generally not possible for the Counsellor to comment on their situation if they were not engaged in counselling during the time they wish to have mitigation applied e.g. if they attended in Year 1 and are now a finalist, statements supporting mitigation from the Counselling Service should be as contemporaneous as possible.
  • If the student has not engaged with the Counselling Service previously, booking a session for the sole purpose of gaining a Mitigating Circumstances Statement of Attendance is not appropriate and should not be advised.
  • Remind students that statements can take up to10 days to process.

It is hoped that the process of supporting mitigating circumstances with a Confirmation of Attendance Statement is meaningful, equitable and straightforward for all concerned.

Q: What do I do if a student talks to me about their personal issues?

A: It is common that students talk to staff about their personal issues. It may be helpful to use basic 'counselling skills' (different from professional counselling) - listen attentively, don't make judgements, don't try to problem solve/offer advice or offer possible solutions - what you CAN do is explore options and offer factual information and signpost to services such as counselling. Be confident in the range of counselling services offered.

Q: What if a student keeps on coming to me to talk about their personal issues - then what do I do?

A: It is most important to be clear about the boundaries of your role and convey that clearly to the student. Know the extent and limits of your responsibilities and clearly state what you can and cannot offer in terms of time and personal support. Be aware of other resources that may be available to students and give them the relevant information. It may be useful to clarify this with the Senior Tutor (or equivalent) in your department.

Q: I enjoy being involved with students, why should I refer to the Counselling Service?

A: To have a natural flair for empathy and understanding is a valuable quality. However, professional counselling requires more than a keen interest. Counselling is a dynamic, often complex, interactive process which requires of the counsellor a disciplined monitoring of clients' and counsellors' responses and non-verbal communication gained through extensive theoretical training.

Employing general counselling skills and then referring on when appropriate, is considerably more time-effective for academic and other staff, allowing them to concentrate on their own area of expertise.

Q: What if I refer a student but they do not want to seek counselling support?

A: Referring to counselling can be a delicate task. It is important to convey that you are not rejecting them after they have perhaps confided in you but rather you are keen to ensure they have the best possible support from an appropriately trained and qualified professional. If counselling is presented as a positive option it may be easier to accept and pursue the referral. Although it may feel difficult, but, if a student does not wish to seek counselling, they can't be forced to. This does not necessarily mean that you have to continue to hold and contain them. As adults, students can only be encouraged to maintain their well-being and supported so to do. Your task is to inform them of their options and to encourage them to seek the most appropriate help for themselves. The Counselling Service offers a range of resouces such as email counselling, self help tools, workshops, group counselling as well as face-to-face individual counselling - ensure your student knows the extent of what is available so that you can help the student choose appropriately.

Q: Is counselling actually supporting people (students and staff) who are not sufficiently emotionally robust for university life?

A: No, counselling works with many high-achievers and hard workers (students and staff) who are all of high university calibre. However, everyone has mental health, just like everyone has physical health and we all need to look after ourselves well to get the best out of our lives. Engaging with emotional self-care, such as taking time to think, process and understand who we are, how we behave and relate, could be said to parallel going to the gym (or similar) – it helps us keep emotionally healthy, robust and flexible. And there are times when, no matter how fit we are (mentally and emotionally), life is particularly challenging and we need to understand how best to manage the situation with professional support and guidance.

Counselling is a responsible option, efficiently and effectively providing expert, specialist intervention when required, which is a significantly more sensible option than not seeking appropriate help and struggling on feeling under-par and under-performing. The notion that counselling encourages enfeeblement is significantly untrue. The Counselling Service’s aim is to help students and staff to develop insight, self-agency and resilience in order to effect change which can facilitate personal and emotional growth and development. Our task is to deliver a range of psychological interventions to help students and staff process and understand their issues so that they can better engage with their academic tasks.

Q: What about confidentiality?

Some staff working at the University are bound by a requirement for confidentiality. The counsellors are bound by their professional code of ethics to provide a strictly confidential service. Any information given to such staff cannot be communicated to another party without the express consent of the individual concerned. For other staff, whilst maintaining confidence can be seen as good practice, it is not a professional requirement.

It may be useful to check with your department as to the confidentiality policy with regard to disclosure of information about students or staff to anyone else. Sometimes it can be helpful for all concerned for staff to discuss the issues of a student (or member of staff) with colleagues - this of course should be done with respect for the privacy of the situation, but that is different from being treated 'in confidence'.

Q: I'm interested to know more about the Counselling Service - where can I get more info?

Contact your departmental consultant and arrange to meet at the Counselling Service at Westwood House for a discussion - visiting the Service can be helpful when you're referring people as you can explain the environment from experience, or, if time is an issue, a telephone conversation with your Departmental Consultant can be arranged.

You may be interested to become an Ambassador for the Counselling Service - find out more details here.

If you have a question you would like to ask the Counselling Service team, please email or contact your named link consultant about the services on offer.