Universiteit Leiden

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Three questions for the student psychologist

With the final weeks of the year in full swing, many students are experiencing stress. This is where a chat with the student psychologist can bring some relief. Martine Efting Dijkstra explains what she and her colleagues can do.

What does the student psychologist do?

‘We provide short-term and accessible help to students who do not yet need to go to the mental healthcare centre, but who do experience complaints. This might include study-related complaints such as fear of failure, perfectionism, or procrastination, but we also help students who feel depressed, have panic attacks, are anxious, worry a lot, have a sick family member, or have had an unpleasant experience, such as sexually transgressive behaviour. After all, if the students are not doing well, their studies are usually not going very well either.

If a student really needs urgent, specialist help or a diagnosis, we do advise them to go to their GP. We can lower the threshold for seeking further help, but for a referral you need to see your GP.’

Many student complaints are caused by study pressure. What can lecturers do if they see a student struggling?

‘Be sensitive. For students, what lecturers say and think matters, so it is already a win if you make things like fear of failure negotiable. Students are often hugely relieved when they turn out not to be the only one with a problem. If you pick up signals but find it difficult to address a student individually, you can also choose to raise an issue in the group or simply ask them how things are going. That way, you show that your door is open.’

Can you also take the students' mental health into account in your lecturing style?

‘At school or at the university, the focus quickly comes to lie on results. If bad grades in secondary school have given you the feeling that you are bad at maths, for example, this can sometimes immediately lead to tension around statistics courses at university. As a lecturer, it is good in such cases to emphasise that learning is a process. You can master something, even if you do not have a natural talent for. You can also give students feedback on their skills and progress. Especially students with fear of failure are extremely alert to negative feedback and forget to value what they are good at. As a lecturer, it is good to point this out.’

In addition to individual talks, student psychologists also offer workshops. More information is available here.

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