The Buchanan Institute has launched a research initiative focused on the counselling service, with the aim of explaining the discrepancy between the 99 per cent approval rating for the counselling service as stated in their annual report and lower figures found in student satisfaction research done as part of a nap pod proposal.
The research centres around a survey which they are hoping will garner widespread responses from students who have either used the counselling service or attempted to use it but have been dissuaded by long wait times.
“After being on committee and last semester hearing a lot about the student counselling service and a lot of critiques about it I decided this would be a good time to launch a research project on the counselling service,” explained Buchanan Institute Secretary and research group co-founder Nina Pusic. “What can be improved? How can we increase transparency? Things like that.”
Pusic elaborated: “We are going about it by doing surveys, interviews and a comparative analysis of what our University counselling service does and what other university counselling services do to find out what is effective and ineffective and basically how we measure up to the UK standard and globally.
“One of the main points of feedback was that to improve student well-being the counselling service needs to be addressed and lots of issues with it.”
Co-founder Ellie Cleasby mentioned that across campus and online a common reaction from students is that there was “so much more to be done” than just nap pods, and that a significant aspect of that is inspecting the counselling service.
The research found the numbers in the counselling service annual report to be surprising. “The feedback Buchanan was getting with the nap pods was that no one was happy with the service,” co-founder Isabel Rayner recalled.
Pusic said that the discrepancy could be accounted for by the way information is spread by word of mouth. “It’s a lot easier to reflect on the bad experiences than it is the positive experiences,” she stated.
Pusic and her colleagues speculate that the surveys done by the counselling service might reflect the opinion of the student immediately after counselling, but when students are given more time to reflect and discuss the experience with their friends, impressions often change.
They explained that while the annual report statistics surveyed only students who had received counselling, their research collected student opinions overall including the opinions of students who had never used counselling services.
Speaking to The Student, Cleasby stated: “One of the major things that’s come from our research is all of the incredible things that the counselling service has done that is not something that we’re aware of at all.
“Yes, they have so many barriers and there’s a lot of limitations to what they can do but they’ve also been working hard over the past few years to do loads more online things. They’re redesigning the website at the moment to be more accessible and there are loads of new classes, like mindfulness classes and things which are really interesting but it still isn’t meeting student expectations.”
Pusic claimed that the University of Edinburgh’s counselling service exceeds the Russell Group expectations in terms of number of counsellors, amount of spaces and that “it far exceeds the UK standards, not that the UK standards are very high.”
She concluded: “It is far exceeding what it has to do and I think that has never really been reflected among public discourse among university students.”
She mentioned a “huge gap” between the counselling services that exist and those students were aware of. The group advocates for increased transparency, hoping that student needs will be better met once they are aware of the full range of services offered.
Other issues the service faces includes a lack of “NHS funding for mental health in Scotland and how different that is to other areas in the UK.”
Cleasby stated: “The counselling service has a lot that they have to cover and one of the things that has really come out of this is that they can not come out and do the work that NHS is set up to do. They are a short-term health service.”
However, Pusic, Cleasby and Rayner mentioned shorter waiting times for the University of Edinburgh’s service than that of the NHS.
The research group hopes to use the survey as a forum for students to discuss their experiences with the counselling centre and to eventually write recommendations to the counselling centre that reflect their findings.