May 18, 2007
By Silas Polkinghorne
Vicki Herman hopes Student Counselling Services can be more than simply a listing in the phonebook.
A psychologist and outreach coordinator, Herman aims to reach more students by making counselling services more accessible, and by extending their scope beyond office-based clinical appointments.
“I think now we want to take more responsibility and get more involved in the University community, in addition to providing those counselling services,” said Herman. “We’re trying to help make this a better community for students to work and study in, so they can be more successful.”
A U of S student health survey of 2003 showed that close to 30 per cent of undergraduates report being highly stressed or overwhelmed – a figure much higher than Herman would like. “If you’re chronically in that state, that’s a worry. That’s too stressed.”
Students seek help with a range of other issues, including homesickness, eating and body image issues, relationship difficulties and depression, she explained.
The push to make Counselling Services more open includes establishing links with professors, the “front line” of people who see students every day. “We’re not everywhere, but the professors are everywhere,” and they are often the ones who can recognize a student in distress, she said.
At Student Counselling Services, students are typically seen for an initial appointment within a week or two of contacting the office. So in an effort to make its services more accessible, the office has added some same-day, first-come first-served appointment slots for students in crisis or who can benefit from a brief consultation.
“We think that one of the most important things we can do is get students in here in a timely way,” said Herman.
Students Counselling is also offering services outside its office, like an exam anxiety management session at the University Learning Centre and presentations to classes on topics like body image. Plus, Herman works closely with the Student Health Centre to address student health and well-being issues and with USSU centres, which offer peer counselling and referrals.
In general, Herman hopes to ensure that students who feel marginalized – often including international students, aboriginal students, or those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) – feel a sense of belonging. “To be successful, students need to feel accepted and that there’s a place that they belong.”
The Counselling office seeks to address the emotional challenges of university – which for many students include experiencing anxiety and “low mood” for the first time – without the potential added stress of a diagnosis.
“We’re not trying to really diagnose students, we’re looking at, you know, what’s the struggle, and what’s the context of the struggle?”
Herman sees students who come from great distances to study and must deal with the unique stressor of being without their usual social supports. “In particular, we’re trying to recognize that we’ve maybe not hit the mark, necessarily, for our aboriginal students or our international students. We’re trying to find out more about what do we need to do to meet these students’ needs. How can we help them?”
An upcoming health survey, to be conducted in the 2007-2008 school year, promises to shed more light on how Student Counselling Services can better serve students, Herman added.
Office of Communications, University of Saskatchewan