What is counselling?

Counselling is about talking to someone who understands what depression is and what can help.Counsellors are professionally trained to work with people on their personal and emotional issues, including depression and suicide.
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What to expect from counselling

Most universities and many colleges have a counselling service which is free for students to use.

Counselling offers an opportunity to talk confidentially to someone impartial, so you are free to explore your true feelings and be supported without judgement. Because everyone is different, a counsellor does not simply dish out advice – the discussions in counselling are aimed at helping you understand what is going on for you and what would help you best.

When you phone or email for an appointment you may be asked to give your weekly availability so that you can be offered an appropriate appointment time. You may be asked to fill in a short questionnaire or registration form to give your contact details and a bit of information about what issues you want to discuss. This information will always be treated confidentially.

In the first session you will usually:

  • have an opportunity to ask questions about what is offered,
  • be expected to outline what has brought you to counselling and what you hope to gain,
  • agree a series of meetings, usually weekly, to discuss and work through the depression.

What you say will be kept confidential to the counselling service and will not be discussed with anyone else in your university/college (except under certain exceptional circumstances which will be explained in advance).

Different kinds of counselling

Counsellors do not all work in exactly the same way, and not everyone ‘clicks’ with the first counsellor they see. Counsellors welcome questions about how they work, and are open to discussing whether they are the right person to help. It is important that you feel comfortable with the counsellor you see, so don’t settle for the first one if you’re not entirely happy with them. See ‘How does counselling help?’ for more on what to expect and the different kinds of counselling.

What else do counsellors offer?

  • Liaison with doctors
    Counsellors often work closely with university health centres and may be able to help you find a doctor who has an interest in working with depression. Some counsellors work in GP surgeries and offer counselling on referral from the doctor.
  • Referrals
    Some counselling services offer referrals for alternative therapies, like massage or exercise classes.
  • E-mail counselling
    Some university or college counselling services offer counselling via email as well as face-to-face sessions (see ‘Online help’).
  • Groups or workshops
    Some counselling services offer therapy or support groups, sometimes focusing specifically on depression. They may also offer one-off workshops with tips for things like stress management or procrastination.
  • Further info
    Most services have websites and leaflets describing what they offer and offering advice about common problems, including depression.

Counselling vocabulary

There are broadly 3 main approaches to counselling, with many sub-categories and ‘brands’ within these categories. You may not have a choice over which type of counselling is offered – although some services are able to offer a choice. However, all counsellors will tailor what they offer to suit it to what you need.

Psychodynamic counselling

Counselling which focuses on patterns of relationship, often helpful in understanding how early experiences might be affecting you in the present. Especially helpful for untangling ‘baggage’ which may be holding you back in your current relationships and attitudes to others. Understanding how your current attitudes and ways of interacting with others are caught up in old hurts can free you to choose more constructive ways forward.

Person-centred counselling

Counselling which respects individual uniqueness and steers clear of any form of advice, preferring to support you in finding your own meanings and solutions. Especially useful when your main need is for caring, non-judgemental support and a neutral space where you can get things off your chest.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)

Counselling which is solution and action-focused, especially helpful in tackling unhelpful thinking habits. Has strong evidence for effectiveness in treating both depression and anxiety. Lends itself well to self-help – much of the self-help information on this site is based on CBT – so can be used alongside other approaches to counselling. Requires commitment and willingness to carry out ‘homework’ tasks and work towards agreed goals.

Integrative counselling

Many counsellors integrate aspects of each of these approaches, rather than working in only one way. This is especially true in the context of the short-term, focused approach that most counsellors working in universities and colleges would use.

How does counselling help?

A counsellor will aim to help you get a clear overview of the problem, as the basis for finding ways forward.

See the ‘Framework for understanding depression’ to see how a counsellor might help you to explore your depression story.

For some people, just the opportunity to talk to someone caring and supportive is enough to help them re-engage with their own coping resources. For others, a more detailed focus on what has gone wrong and how to put it right might be indicated.

Always be honest with your counsellor about whether the counselling sessions feel helpful or not, and if you aren’t getting the kind of help you want then let the counsellor know. Counselling works as a collaborative process, so it can’t help if you aren’t clear about what you want.