When you hear the word ‘counselling’ what do you think of?

Two people in a room; one talking and the other just nodding and listening? 
Films have a lot to answer for, and for me that image conveys nothing of the aliveness of the relationship that counselling offers.

For instance, when was the last time that a friend or someone in your family really listened to your experience, without confusing it or comparing it with their own? 

The real trick of counselling is that it creates the circumstances that mean you can fully be yourself. By providing relational sounding boards and mirrors it allows you to see and hear the self you are in this moment. Sometimes someone else can see you changing when you can’t see it yourself.
Most people emerge from experiences of counselling feeling better than they did at the start, more able to function and on a positive trajectory in terms of their mental health, but the chances of this are much increased if they can come along with some openness to the process, some belief it could help in some way. This is one of the reasons we ask people to refer themselves, rather than being required to come: they need just a tiny bit of belief, and it can be just tiny.

The other surprise to some is that counselling is not just about two people in a room, in fact increasingly this is less and less so. The Student Counselling Service now offers about 300 students direct support each week and whilst some of them will be in individual appointments, most of these are either initial assessments to establish the best pattern of care for someone, one off follow ups to these meetings to support a person’s self help, 20 minute initial meetings to establish support choices, or 20 minute ‘Drop ins’ to offer immediate triage and signposting to support, or to help keep them on track with ‘Beating the Blues’ (our online CBT support programme). Even our regular sessions tend to be for fewer than 6 weeks.

Over 100 of the total seen are accessing our regular closed groups or coming just this week to an open group, or attending one of our workshops. And that’s without keeping a count of the number of people who use our resource library and website self help pages.

Because of the range of what we offer we registered over 1600 students last academic year, and so far this year we are experiencing a 20% increase on that. We can’t work with everyone but we have a number of useful contacts in the wider community of Bristol, so that no one needs to feel alone with their concerns.

And just one little plug for group work. If counselling helps you see aspects of yourself you can’t yet see , imagine what it might feel like if other students just like you provided the sounding board, or if someone in the group told a story that made you feel you were not the only one struggling with similar things. It is a powerful moment, and every group sees it, when someone says, ‘it’s such a relief…I thought it was just me’.



Chinese New Year 2013!

Happy Chinese New Year to All Our Students.

A blog by Dr Clare Grant

Over the weekend, Chinese New Year was celebrated all around the world, including here in Bristol. Although Chinese students at the University weren’t lucky enough to get a statutory holiday to celebrate the New Year, I’m sure they enjoyed welcoming in the year of the Snake. Chinese New Year traditionally marks the end of the Winter Season, so that’s already one good reason to celebrate….roll on some Spring-like weather! Traditionally, it’s also a very family orientated time of year, when relatives get together and enjoy good food and each other’s company.

There are so many ways of keeping in touch with family once you leave home and come to University, even when leaving home means travelling thousands of miles to study in a different country. In fact, sometimes it feels hard to escape family ties: there always seems to be some way in which they can contact you! But, as we all know, it’s at family times like Chinese New Year, when the rest of our relatives get together without us, that we can feel particularly isolated and unsupported.

There are many International students at the University, with the largest single group being  from China. The personal and professional benefits of spending some time abroad studying in Bristol can be huge, but it can also be challenging studying away from home. All of the Bristol University Support Services (Students’ Health Service, Student Counselling, Disability Services, Multifaith Chaplaincy and Careers Service) are here to help our International Students as well as our home ones. These support services may be quite different to the ones provided by Universities in other countries, so it’s definitely worth having a look at their individual websites to see what they offer and how they might be able to help you.

Here at Students’ Health Service, we are experienced in helping International Students with their medical problems, wherever they come from in the world. In any one day, we can see students from at least 15 different countries! We are also aware of the physical and psychological health problems that can be associated with coming to study abroad. If you are experiencing health problems, please do make an appointment with one of our doctors or nurses, (our reception staff will help you decide who it’s best to make the appointment with): whichever country you come from, we are here to help you whilst you are studying at Bristol University.


“Home is the nicest word there is”



Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.  ~John Ed Pearce, American Newspaper Editor/ political speech writer

Freshers’ week is over, the excitement has been countered by your course reading list, and reality is starting to have an impact…

New surroundings, new people, new accommodation, and in many cases a new climate, sometimes all in a new language! Home can seem a very long way away. For some people feeling homesick will briefly impact on their consciousness and then they’re off again, whirling through Bristol, eyes on their next challenge. For many people however, overcoming the homesickness IS the challenge.

Maybe this is a good time to reflect on the fact that with about 4000 new people all joining the university in the same week, those who feel homesick are unlikely to be alone in feeling this way. Certainly from where we sit, here at the Students’ Health Service, and in the experience of our colleagues in Student Counselling, and the Multifaith Chaplaincy, we know you are not alone in wishing that your nearest and dearest, and the comforts of home, were a little closer. We recognise how common an emotion this is and therefore we are here to help you deal with it and move onwards to enjoying your time at Bristol as much as you can. The Counselling Service run all sorts of groups and workshops throughout the academic year, with some specifically aimed at supporting people who are homesick. Look at their website for more information, and to book a place on them. And don’t forget that the Chaplaincy is for people of any faith AND none. You wont find a friendlier team providing soup lunches and support anywhere in the university!

My message for this blog is that you are not alone, and that we are all here at the Student Support Services ready to help and listen. It is better to seek advice early than to struggle on alone, we can help.

 A final thought on leaving home;

 “Maybe you had to leave in order to really miss a place; maybe you had to travel to figure out how beloved your starting point was.”
Jodi Picoult, author Handle With Care