Academics are not psychotherapists


There is a story in the papers this weekend about university students feeling that they are not fully supported by their universities, particularly in terms of mental health support. As per usual, given the 9k fees, students and their parents feel like high quality mental health support should be available to students.


However, I would ask students and their families to consider this from the other side.


Yes, students who are struggling, who may have a diagnosable mental health problem or who have a diagnosed mental health problem, should be supported to ensure that they have the equaivalent learning and student experience as their peers without a mental health problem.


But, what exactly do they expect the university to provide? Psychiatrists? Clinical psychologists? Unlimited access to psychotherapy? Academic staff to provide psychotherapy?


What? What do they want? The first three are the purvue of the NHS and universities will never supply services that are duplicated by the NHS.


The last one, academics providing psychotherapy, is ILLEGAL. “Clinical psychologist” is a protected professional title and ONLY clinical psychologists and other accredited individuals can provide formal psychotherapy. Any staff member providing psychotherapy to a distressed student is not qualified and risk formal disciplinary procedures. More seriously for the students, psychotherapy can have serious negative impacts on clients even with trained psychotherapists, and this is something many people forget. Not only can meds have deleterious side effects but so can psychotherapy, and psychotherapy provided by untrained staff is much more likely to have deleterious consequences.


Academics always fear students with serious mental health problems as our hands are tied and there is little that we can do for them other than to tell them to contact their GP or CMHT. We are here to provide advice about academic issues and provide an ear for students who just want to vent or talk about problems, but in reality, there is very little we can do beyond re-arranging coursework submission, etc.


We can, however, provide better Counselling services for students. But Counselling departments are not for diagnosing mental health problems. Student unions need to be more vocal in demanding that Counselling departments receive more adequate funding, although how likely this is with the Tory’s slashing the disabled student allowance we don’t know.


What I will say, though, is that if you think the support for students with mental health problems is poor, the support for staff with mental health problems is MUCH worse, and near on non-existent. Counselling services for staff have been outsourced to private providers, and realistically, counselling isn’t necessary going to be sufficient for staff with serious or complex mental health problems.


Also, while universities DO bend over backwards to put in adjustments for students with disabilities, including mental health problems, and the students have their own Disability Office, the adjustments and support put in place for staff with mental health problems is pretty much non-existent. Staff don’t have a Disability Office. While students may have deadlines altered due to mental health difficulties, staff requesting such adjustments are seen as being a burden. The best such staff have is their union and Occupational Health. And, OH are there to protect the university not the staff member. Getting adjustments out of OH is like pulling teeth, and this is largely due to the very unhelpful doctors who work on the service who overrule adjustments that practice nurses’ suggest. If you want adjustments you really need to push for them. And, if you are unhappy with your treatment, you have to speak to your line manager, HR, OH, or your union. There is no one-stop-shop place for staff, such as a staff disability office, unlike students, so having adjustments put in place and making your university abide by them is really up to you.


So, yes, we need to do more to support students, but in many case our hands are tied, and even the best service is not going to be on par with what the NHS can provide. All we can realistically do is modify academic work load. On the other hand, staff with mental health difficulties continuously get screwed over and have next to zero support in comparison to what is in place for students. Policies to support students are plentiful in university governance documentation; there is next to none for staff. Count yourself lucky.


End of marking, for now, in sight….

….but I have gnawed my left arm off and beaten myself, and the computer, with it.


I am now having to type in the feedback like my father would….one…..finger….at….a….time…..


It was, however, preferable to carving pentagrams into my stomach with the marking criteria……

Pluck my eye balls out and call me the devil

I am in hell.


And literal.


I am marking undergraduate course work.

I can feel the waves of your sympathy through the wifi….

I put together a very unique assignment which means that plagiarism is zero. Unfortunately, because Wikipedia isn’t any use for this assignment I’ve had to wade through dirge and shite for the past month.

I seriously considered hiri kiri. Edward II’s hot poker was looking like an option for a while. I was even thinking the Gunpowder plotters had a less painful ending than what I was experiencing.

I may even have been mesmerised by the imperfectly formed turds swimming past my eyes.

If only students would READ THE FLIPPIN’ QUESTION and stop vomiting lecture notes back onto the page to submit for marking.

To think, in 7 months these people will be graduates.

January is the last chance to rectify this imminent error and rig the basement in the exam venue with some sticks of dynamite….


Otherwise, they were a great class!

How the USS are going to piss on all off us for generations to come

I was absolutely delighted a couple of weeks ago to see the proposals for changes to the USS pension scheme. As a mid-rank lecturer, apparently, I can look forward to having my pension pot halved, and living on exactly the same amount as I did in my first post 12 years ago.

After 45 years of blood, sweat and tears, I’m only worth 21k a year pension. Seriously. Postdocs these days are getting at least 8k more than that in their first post. It is an insult.

Not that anyone coming into the scheme in the last few years is any better off.

We’re paying for all those superstars brought in at the last minute on huge salaries and bonuses for REF2014, and god knows who else. They’ll be fine on their 40k+ pension (MY pension!).

And this is why it is such an issue. I won’t have paid my mortgage off by the time I retire. I couldn’t afford to get a mortgage until recently after saving up a big deposit for 10 years. The next generation of PhD students coming into academia probably won’t have mortgages until well into their 40s, so they’ll have even more to pay off after retirement. So, none of us will end up retiring because we won’t want to have to sell our houses to move to one bedroom bungalows. In turn, there will be no jobs for the next generation of new academics.

Screw one generation on their pension and it will carry on feeding on down the line. Is it not enough that students get screwed on tuition fees, less studentships for basic research, less lectureships available, an even more cut throat publish or perish mentality, professors swinging in to stamp their name on junior staff’s grants and claim all the credit when all they did was add an electronic signature?

Piss on me, Piss on you.

Ding dong, the twat is gone!

He’s GONE!

He’s flippin’ well gone!

Teachers rejoice!

Michael Gove is gone, gone, gone!

Surely there is a Morrissey song that we can all play in one giant mass congratulations!

Unfortunately, my first reading that George Foreman was the new Sciences Minister proved to be wrong….alas

A certificate in teaching does not mean you are an effective teacher

Having basically been forced to add “knowledge exchange” activities to my staff review and development plan for the forthcoming year because, apparently, it is part of the university’s “mission statement”, I know exactly what is coming next.

“The university wants to follow the Uni of Huddersfield’s example and have 100% of its academic staff hold an HEA teaching qualification……”

I can vaguely understand people who don’t know any better thinking that this bit of paper makes you a “better” teacher, and that new staff to teaching may get some benefit from it, but seriously!

When exactly am I suppose to find the time for this?

Is not 10 years of teaching experience enough? I’ll admit I wasn’t great in the beginning but I got better year on year. But you could say that for any profession. A PGCE does not make a good high school teacher….ask any high school student.

The rise of the HEA teaching qualification is probably proportional to the decline in mentors at universities. In the good old days, new staff would be paired with a seasoned academic who would give you advice on everything and anything, read your papers and grant applications and critique them, give you career advice, give you tips on admin, and sit in on your lectures and give you advice.

You don’t need to spend a year gaining a certificate that doesn’t actually train you in how to teach. You’ll get that from doing it and students have to be realistic that teaching is a skill that is acquired through doing it. I’ve noticed that students own dire presentation skills and being confronted by them never seem to lead to that dawn of realisation that actually teaching ain’t so easy. The HEA certificate just replaces the old mentoring system. And it gives an excuse for universities to ditch peer review of teaching because….well, there is no need….100% of our staff have a certificate that proves they are effective teachers.


Society is the problem in campus shootings, not students with mental illnesses

I’ve blogged here before about THE publishing scandalous articles explicitly blaming students with mental health problems for shootings on campuses. I even sent a letter to the editor last time outlining the faulty logic in the argument and the evidence against the authors of the articles’ claims. They failed to publish it.

They are at it again.

Obviously they took my wrist slapping last time to heart.

The article, again, points the finger at students with mental health problems or who are “troubled” or “disturbed”.

This approach of universities blaming students seems to be very consistent with the dominant model in the psi-disciplines in the last few decades which places your problems within you…that you are “abnormal” or “biological deficient”. You are the result of your faulty neurochemistry or wonky brain architecture.

It’s too easy, and lazy, to blame the individual. That way we don’t have to look at our own culpability or that of wider society. It is easier for a government or chancellor of a university to throw some money at the problem in terms of more money for drugs or “early detection screening” (the biggest myth in modern psychiatry) rather than realising that it is society that is the problem.

The latter requires a great deal of thought, money, infastructure and resources to fix a broken system or society. It also allows us to deflect blame from ourselves onto others.