Why I need counselling

January 28, 2005

Hello, you've got through to the Automated Anonymous Lecturer Counselling Service. How do you feel? I am listening.

Oh dear. I think I've dialled the wrong number. I wanted to vote to return Germaine Greer to the Big Brother house. If that's not possible, perhaps you could bring in Richard Dawkins as a surprise visitor?

What is your problem? Please press 1 for stress; 2 for depression; 3 for bullying; 4 for concerns about your pension; 5 for a general feeling of hopelessness and despair.

Er, well, none of those. I feel fine, really.

You seem to be in denial. I cannot help you if you are not willing to help yourself. Please select again. I am listening.

Well, I don't think you are listening. I have good days and bad days. Who doesn't? But, overall, it is a great job - lively students, interesting colleagues, flexible hours, and I am paid to do something I love. It could be a lot worse: I could be down a mine, cleaning toilets, or even be George Dubya's literacy coach.

You've chosen Stress.

No I haven't.

It's OK to feel stressed. It's not your fault. Who would you like to blame for your stress? Please press 1 for your head of department; 2 for the research assessment exercise; 3 for that jammy git next door who has just won a huge research council grant; 4 for your mum, who still thinks that Oxford and Cambridge are the only "proper" universities; 5 for ley lines.

Er, now you mention it, my head of department can be quite demanding, setting unreasonable deadlines, changing priorities and burdening me with extra work. And she doesn't seem to realise that some of us have families and live away from university. And don't start me on the RAE. When do I get time to get published? You do your best, but no one seems to appreciate it.

And who cares if you are a good teacher these days?

My advice is: make some space for your own needs.

What does that mean? Wait a minute - old Jones has got a research grant? Bang goes my readership application. Two years of grovelling and pretending to be interested in my dean's book on God-knows-what. When do I get time to write a grant proposal? Maybe I should copy Jones - not wash, never do up my flies, stare at female students suspiciously. Then they'd cut my teaching load and I'd be able to do some research.

It's OK to feel stressed. Take some time out.

What? Time for myself? I barely have time to go to the toilet. If it's not work, it's the bloody family. I have so many late nights that the wife thinks I'm having an affair. Chance would be a fine thing.

How do you feel now? Press 1 for heard and understood; 2 for calm and contented; 3 for empowered to work out priorities; 4 for ready for anything, with a go-get-'em attitude; 5 for offended by the implication that complex human emotions and desires can be reduced to a few comforting clichés.

How do I feel now? I feel stressed, depressed, and bullied, and...

Press 1 if you require further assistance.

1. Hello. You have been transferred to the Samaritans.

Richard Bailey
Professor of education
Canterbury Christ
Church University College

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