Frequently asked questions


What is counselling?

Counselling is a talking and listening process that helps you to focus on, and understand, the concerns that are troubling you. It provides a space where you can feel comfortable and at ease while talking with an empathic listener, and where you have the opportunity to explore as much or as little of your concerns as you choose to bring. Counselling may be concerned with addressing and resolving specific problems, coping with crisis and change, developing personal insight and knowledge, improving relationships with others, making decisions and working through feelings of inner conflict.

Counselling support can be offered through a Talk and Plan (TAP) session, individual sessions or within a workshop or therapeutic group. You can access a one off session or opt for a series of up to 6 sessions.

Services offered

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What sorts of issues can I bring to counselling?

People bring a large range of issues to counselling and no two students stories are ever the same. No issue is too small to bring nor, in our experience too large, though we may also recommend other help if we feel this would complement or be more appropriate than the counselling process. The common problems under self help information give you some idea of the sort of issues people bring, but this is not an exhaustive list.

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Does counselling work?

Research suggests that counselling can be an effective process for a range of common presenting issues. These include anxiety and depression, loss and bereavement, management of change, decision making, social isolation, difficulties with self esteem, problematic eating, phobias and the management of physical discomfort and pain. The evaluations we receive also suggest that people have been helped by our services.

Research also suggests that counselling is more effective where clients believe it is capable of making a difference and where counsellor and client forge a good working alliance, so your own positive attitude to the process and the joint endeavour of developing a good working relationship are of central importance in the effectiveness of counselling.

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How long will I need to see a counsellor for?

The length of contract you will be offered will depend on the issues you bring, your level of present need and a joint process of assessing your needs with your counsellor. Many people only come for a single session, some for a few and others for a 6 week contract. You can choose to leave counselling at any point and you may choose to return at a later stage.

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Can I work with someone all year?

For some individuals having regular contact with the Counselling Service throughout the academic year is what enables them to stay on their course or cope with difficult life circumstances. Although we cannot offer regular 1:1 counselling all year, we can offer a combinatin of interventions such as brief 1:1, working with Talk and Plan (TAP) sessions or attending groups. The nature of contact offered to students will be decided on a case by case basis and in consultation with the Head of Service who also monitors for need in the service as a whole. If you are involved in longer term work this will be reviewed on a regular basis and you may be required to take breaks or swap to self help or group work if there are good clinical reasons for this or if demands on the service mean that resources need to be shared out amongst more students

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Can I just have a one-off session?

When was the last time that someone really listened to you and gave you an uninterrupted 50 minutes for this? For many people the one-off experience of counselling can be all they need to talk about what is going on for them and find a way to keep going or make changes for the better. For this reason we are very happy to just offer initial sessions without any strings attached, if this is your preferred choice.

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Do I need to book an appointment in advance?

We encourage students to register with us for support. Some support, such as individual counselling and some groups will need advance booking and other groups and workshops can be accesed straight away.

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How long will I have to wait for support?

We encourage all students seeking support to register with us. The waiting time will depend on the support that you are seeking. Some drop-in groups and workshops can be started straight away and other support such as individual counselling may take 6 weeks or longer to access at busy times.

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How does the waiting list for regular 1:1 counselling work?

We operate a managed waiting list and prioritise students who are at academic risk or at risk of harm to themselves or others. There may be times when students do not disclose risks to us at the initial appointment or where circumstances change after the initial appointment. It may be that friends, family members or academic staff have concerns about a student, and in this case they may wish to pass on any information about that student that they feel we may not be aware of. In this case we may review the priority of that particular student. Where students do not appear to be at risk of harm, we will offer them a space on a first come first served basis. All students who can be flexible about their availability for appointments will have a better chance of being seen sooner. In most cases we are able to see students within 4-6 weeks of their assessment appointment. However this can vary in busy periods. We aim to give all students a good estimate of the time they may be waiting at their assessment appointment. If we are not able to offer counselling within the time frame originally suggested, then we will get in touch with the student to offer alternative support in the interim. All students on the waiting list for 1:1 are entitled to an individual peer mentor. Students can help us in the management of our waiting list by:

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Do I have to be a Bristol University student to use the counselling service?

The counselling service is only available to individuals who are currently full or part time students at the university. If you leave your course prematurely we will arrange for you to have a final session with your counsellor who may then be able to refer you on for counselling elsewhere. If you suspend studies we will still endeavour to support you via Talk and Plan (TAP) sessions and access to any open group, but we will not be able to offer you regular counselling intervention (either in a closed group or via individual counselling).

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Can I choose who I see for individual counselling?

When you first apply to have individual counselling you can state your preference to see a man or a woman. If you have other preferences then please do let us know and we will try to accommodate them. If you would like to work for further sessions you can request to see the same counsellor and we will try to accommodate this, though you may be seen more quickly if you are willing to see anyone.

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How confidential is the service? Will my privacy be respected?

Within any counselling service, the need for confidentiality is paramount. Consequently, confidentiality is a most important part of this service, and the service subscribes to the ethical framework of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). In practice this means that:

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Exceptions to confidentiality

Find out more by reading our confidentiality policy

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Will you speak to other members of student services?

Our confidentiality policy makes it clear that in normal circumstances we will not contact other members of the student services team nor disclose to them that you are having counselling. However in some cases students may give consent for us to make routine contact with other member of student services in order that they can be provided with shared care. This may be particularly helpful if you have a registered disability, a medical condition or are involved in a disciplinary or appeals process. We will not liaise in this way without your specific written consent.

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Will you speak to my tutor?

Our confidentiality policy makes it clear that in normal circumstances we will not contact your tutors nor disclose to your tutors that you are having counselling. However, students sometimes ask us to provide additional clarification for tutors for extenuating circumstances evidence. In some cases, students may give consent for us to make routine contact with their tutor in order that they can be provided with shared care. We will not liaise in this way without your specific consent.

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Will you speak to my parents?

Our confidentiality policy makes it clear that in normal circumstances we will not contact your parents, nor disclose to your parents that you are having counselling. Sometimes parents contact us wishing to inform us of concerns they have in which case we will take clear notes and let them know that we will disclose what they have shared should you approach us for counselling.

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Will you speak to my doctor?

Our confidentiality policy makes it clear that in normal circumstances we will not contact your GP nor disclose to your GP that you are having counselling. However in the unusual event that we have serious concerns about your welfare or the welfare of others we may wish to contact your GP in order to minimize harm. In making such a decision we will be guided by the bacp ethical framework and our own confidentiality policy.

In some cases students may give consent for us to make routine contact with their GP in order that they can be provided with shared care. This can be particularly helpful where a student has both medical and psychological needs. We will not liaise in this way without your specific written consent.

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Will my counsellor take notes and if so what happens to them?

Counsellors are required to take notes in order to recall information, monitor their practice and so that the service as a whole can respond to you appropriately during your work with us. Notes are kept securely and confidentially in line with our own confidentiality policy and data protection processes. If you would like to see your notes please make a request in writing via student-counselling@bristol.ac.uk. Notes will only be passed to third parties where you make a specific request for this to happen or if we are required to produce them for legal reasons. Your tutors and course administrators do not have the right to access your counselling notes.

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What do I do if I am not happy with the service I am getting?

We welcome your feedback, good and bad. In the first instance please speak to your counsellor as often problems can be ironed out through discussion. If you are still unhappy please arrange to speak to Jackie Head, the Head of Service by calling in to reception or email her on student-counselling@bristol.ac.uk.

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Can I change counsellor once I have started seeing someone?

Although you will be allocated a counsellor in the first instance, if for any reason you feel you would like to work with a different counsellor you are always free to do so. To request a change of counsellor please talk to your existing counsellor or contact Reception.

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Need help now?

The following organisations can be approached in case of an emergency.

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