More Frank debate 1

October 31, 2003

Frank Furedi's provocative article "Get rid of those professional stabilisers" ( THES , October 17) is a useful reminder that counselling and psychotherapy have come of age.

As a member of the "counselling industry", with particular interest in developing provision in universities, I do not recognise Furedi's description of student counselling.

The two premises behind such counselling are the academic and personal development of the student. Most students who use counselling come of their own volition. They are encouraged to use the time to make sense of what troubles them, not to pathologise ordinary human behaviour or distress.

Counselling has become acceptable for good reason. Some people may feel this is unfortunate or even threatening. Counsellors have no wish to increase anxiety, lower students' resistance to academic challenges nor dish out unhelpful labels to problems. But the way to ensure this is through constructive dialogue, not distorted polemic.

Les McMinn Chair, Heads of Universities Counselling Services Frank Furedi's professional references seem based on a single British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy press release dated June 2003. He misquotes a statement by me about the changing university environment, and how this is causing "mental illness".

No link to "illness" was made in my original statement. The problems the majority of students bring to counsellors include depression, anxiety, bereavement, eating disorders, abuse and relationship difficulties with families, peers and partners.

This list can only in part be described as being "the ordinary troubles of life". Students will usually be experiencing these problems so acutely that they require the opportunity to speak confidentially because it feels unsafe or inappropriate to speak to others.

Most universities have excellent professional counselling services, providing a breadth of support for students who need the service and an important referral source for staff.

These services will continue to develop, especially as student support is central to the success of widening participation.

Nigel Humphrys
Head, Student Counselling Service
University of Leeds

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