Counselling at the Student Hub

Dr David Mair in the new Student Hub

Housed in the centre of campus in Aston Webb, the new Student Hub has brought together a number of student support service teams into one convenient location.

As well as learning support, disability and mental health services, international student advisors, the Careers Network, other administrative services like funding, graduation and the registry are available.

One of the key components of the new Hub is the counselling and wellbeing team, providing pastoral support to the student body. Dr David Mair, Head of Counselling and Wellbeing, explained what services are available.

Tell us about your current job
We are here to support students as they engage with their studies. It’s a big change for many of them - the first time they are living away from home; some have moved from another country; and they all will be making new friends. All of that creates quite a lot of pressure. We realise that providing support for students is a really important part of what the University does. My role is to head the team of counsellors and wellbeing advisors who provide that support.

How do students make an appointment?
The basic way to access our services would be to telephone our student services support team and ask for an assessment appointment, which they usually get within 24 to 48 hours. A counsellor or wellbeing advisor will talk with them for 50 minutes about the concerns and issues for which they would like help and support, and help them think about which of our services would be most appropriate. They may be recommended to come to one of our groups or workshops, or we may recommend individual support. It’s not open-ended, long-term therapy, it is very much about helping students to adjust and engage with their studies. Typically someone will get between four and six appointments, but of course we never end the support if it isn’t appropriate.

How do you deal with more serious issues?
If there are concerns we will work with the University’s medical officer and we also have close relationships with the various GP practices. If we think a student might need a medical opinion, we would refer students to their doctor and work in collaboration with them.

How many students access the counselling service?
In a typical year about 1,300 students will use our services. Many receive individual support but increasingly now we are finding that they come along to our groups and workshops. One of the great things about coming to a group is that whatever difficulty you are dealing with, you suddenly realise that you aren’t alone. Within about 10 minutes of meeting students with similar issues, it reduces the stigma and the sense of isolation is reduced. Groups have been a great addition to our programme and students are becoming more used to receiving help in that way.

What groups do you run?
We run groups from coping with bereavement and exam anxiety to dealing with eating issues, which are more therapeutic groups. Mindfulness has been very popular this term. A new development for us this year is a group focused on developing emotional wellbeing. That equips students with skills and understanding that they can apply to a wide range of issues they may be dealing with, like anxiety or depression, which are all very common reactions when we are put in new situations.

What is your busiest time of year?
From the middle of November to the end of March. We always say to students that if they have a problem or are worried about anything, please don’t put off seeking support, whether that is from us in central services or from your welfare tutor or personal tutor. Students try to cope too long by themselves and it’s always better for them to come to us or someone in their department earlier rather than later.

Can you tell us more about online counselling?
Online counselling was introduced for the benefit of students who are, for example, doing a year abroad. It is also available for students who literally can’t get into campus - maybe they are doing a placement. The service means they can have a face to face session on their computer with a counsellor. Alternatively they can take part in a live messaging chat or simply exchange emails.

What additional services do you provide?
There is a range of self-help guides on the website, which are really popular. They aren’t a substitute for the counselling service but can be reassuring for many. We get monthly feedback from the guides’ provider and they are very well used. Just reading those booklets can really help people see that they aren’t alone in how they are feeling; that those feelings are quite normal and typical and that they should comfortable to discuss those feelings with others.