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Posts Tagged ‘students’

I’m aiming this at Bristol’s many freshers (the fair city is home to both University of the West of England and the University of Bristol) but it’s just as applicable to returning students, and students at other Universities. It’s a really simple message: if you start struggling, ask for therapy.

As far as I’m aware, every University has a student counselling department these days. Better still, they tend to have websites too, so students in Bristol can check out the University of Bristol Student Counselling Service or the UWE Student Counselling Service as appropriate. These sites will have the information you need about what’s available and how to access the service.

If you can’t get what you need through your University, and you can afford private fees, then Counselling Directory is a good location-based directory. It’s also worth bearing in mind that counsellors and therapists often offer low-cost spaces, or know someone who does, or know local organisations who offer low-cost or free therapy. So ask!

Back to Bristol again, and Bristol Mind have a handy information page about local counselling/mental health services.

And if you do need to access counselling/therapy, remember to familiarise yourself with your University’s procedures around mitigating circumstances (your Students’ Union can advise you on this). Something that impacts negatively on your studies needs to be taken into account by your Board of Studies, but they need to be told about it before the academic assessment in question.

Aside from being a psychotherapist, I have personal experience of needing therapy at University. In my own case, I didn’t contact the counselling service. I didn’t have much of an understanding of what counselling or psychotherapy was. I feared that if I shared what I was experiencing with a professional, I would be required to take medication and/or sectioned. This was an expression of the kind of upbringing I’d had. My associations were that the police locked people up, social services took people’s kids away, mental health professionals put people in padded cells. This was not conducive to reaching out for support.

I also had a belief that seeking counselling was an admission of personal failure, and that I needed to pull myself together. I’ve flagged up the mitigating circumstances in particular because I specifically didn’t use this process. I had the notion that my results wouldn’t be real if they were adjusted to reflect anything I was struggling with. These ideas stemmed from a narrow idea of personal strength and weakness, and of what I was supposed to be able to achieve by myself.

The impact on my studies was pretty severe. I started having panic attacks in my second year, and stopped attending lectures and seminars. My Board of Studies noticed my poor attendance record and warned me I was at risk of disciplinary action; I could be failed on modules, or, in the extreme, kicked off the programme. That was a (partial) wake up call for me, and I forced myself to attend classes again. I discovered some breathing exercises that kept my anxiety low enough for me to stay in the room, and some concentration/meditation exercises that helped bring down my propensity to anxiety.

My grades improved dramatically. I was scraping 2:2s in my second year; in my third year I started getting solid 2:1s and 1s. Not because meditation gave me super powers, but just because addressing the blocks to my studies allowed me to start fulfilling some of my potential. Years later, in actual therapy, I exclaimed to my therapist, “if only I’d known back then that this is what therapy was!”.

Now, I share this experience because I think there are elements of what I experienced that are common in students generally. In people generally, in fact. The “I should be able to manage by myself” rule is something I hear often from people who come to see me for therapy. The experience of shame at seeking therapy in the first place because it means “there’s something wrong with me” or represents a personal failing is also a common theme. And, as a student, I often heard from friends/acquaintances that mitigating circumstances felt like asking for special treatment, and that if they got an improved grade as a result, it wouldn’t feel real.

Looking back, I feel a sense of remorse that I went through suffering that could have been alleviated if I’d felt able to seek counselling. I think there’s some good to be found in sharing that experience if it means someone can recognise themselves in my narrative and use that as a support for getting what they need now.

Maybe that’s you, or maybe that’s a friend of yours. Either way, whilst asking for help might feel hard, doing so might just save you a great deal of pain.

~ ~ ~

My name is Simon Stafford-Townsend. I am a gestalt psychotherapist in private practice in Bristol and Cardiff. My private practice website is Silver Cat Psychotherapy.

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