By Hajar Akl

DIT’s counseling service has introduced different “access points” this year to help more students access the service and avoid long waiting lists.

Ms Catherine Bolger, one of the psychologists of DIT’s counseling service, said students had to wait weeks to see a counselor last year.

This year, a new Live Chat and Walk In Slot have been made available everyday between 10 am and 11 am, where students can avail of the service without needing an appointment.

The Live Chat makes it possible for students to chat with a counselor via Google Chats about any questions or queries they may have.

The Walk In Slots are only available in Aungier Street, because it has the “largest traffic”, and allow students to meet counselors between 10 and 11 am without booking.

“We were so busy last year trying to meet the needs of students… it was impossible to keep going with scheduled appointments,” said Ms Bolger.

Ms Bolger said sometimes students would only have short queries and would only require quick information, so having to wait weeks defeated the point of the service.

She hoped the new services would provide different access points for students to seek counseling faster.

By providing instant access, “we’re hoping it could work for students that may not need to engage in long term counseling,” she said.

Ms Bolger, who is based in Mountjoy Square, said DIT’s counseling service is currently operating with the equivalent of 3.8 full time staff, plus one Head of Service.

“That’s never going to meet [the demand],” she said.

She said there has been an increase in demand for the service but a shortage in staff, but she said interviews are ongoing and two more full time staff will join by the end of 2017.

The new staff members, expected to start in January, will increase the counseling service’s workforce to 5.8 people, which would make a “massive difference” particularly as demand for the service increases around exam time.

Ms Bolger said the new access points have made it possible for students to get immediate answers to their queries.

“What we’ve noticed already is we have no waiting lists, so people can access the service on the day or the next day,” she said.

Ms Bolger said there has been an average of 10 students accessing the Walk In service on a weekly basis.  “We anticipate that this will rise as it is a new service,” she added.

“Also stats from last year show that 77.5 new students accessed the service every month, in addition to the ongoing students which averaged about 120 per month over all the campuses. That’s almost 200 students per month,” she said.

Ms Bolger said that “in addition to our normal service of assessment and counseling” they will also be running a number of workshops for students this year on a range of topics, “such as anxiety, resilience, forming good life habits, etc”.

She said they will be running workshops on different campuses in hopes to “minimise travel [for students] as much as possible.”

Ciarán Freeman, chairperson of the Mental Health society, is currently being seen to by one of the counselors in DIT. He said he was “lucky” that he didn’t have to wait “four or five weeks” to be seen by a counselor and given an assessment.

“I know that I needed counseling myself and I found the form online and that’s kind of where I started… I waited about two weeks before I got the assessment, which for a free service I suppose is decent but it’s not ideal,” said Mr Freeman.

“There’s a stigma attached to these services that I don’t think is removed yet…With the counseling service, students are not using that ideally but at the same time if they were to use it ideally, the service wouldn’t be able to cope. It’s overstretched as it is at the moment,” he added.

He has been in counseling for a few weeks now and said he has benefited greatly from the service.

“Personally speaking, the benefit’s been immense. The issue that I’m in counseling for is quite complex and it would limit my daily life if I didn’t get it seen to. The fact that I got such immediate attention is fantastic and I’ve never been more grateful to a service in my life.”

Mr Freeman said that despite this, the range of functions provided by the service is not very diverse. For example, they don’t offer group counseling sessions.

“They literally offer [only] one to one counseling… weekly, bi-monthly, every month… Personally I get weekly appointments but people like me put a massive strain in the system because we take up a slot every single week from that one counselor. They don’t offer anything like group counseling sessions, again there’s not an awful lot of counselors so they can’t offer a wide range of one to one sessions either.”

Roisin O’Donovan, Vice President for Welfare in DIT’s Student Union (DITSU) said, “[There’s been] long waiting lists for years, it’s really good that they’re trying to do something new… It’s good that they’re trying a new method.”

She said she will “constantly push” for new ways of accessing counseling in DIT.

“There are going to be two more full time counselors in place,” said Ms O’Donovan. “[However] while pushing for counseling; it’s important as well to try have alternatives.”

She said there will be training and workshops for students so they can “self-manage” their mental health.

“We need to lobby for more counseling and better service,” she said, adding that they will try to also incorporate more training workshops “to educate students to mind their own mental health”.

Ms Bolger said the Walk In slots are available every day for “any student who needs to be seen urgently”.

She added: “The staff in the counselling service are all Chartered Psychologists or Registered Psychotherapists and as so are fully trained and experienced in recognising and assessing for every serious issue that may come through the door.”

You can contact a counselor via Live Chat between 10 am and 11 am everyday on [email protected] To get more information, follow @counsellingDit on Twitter.

If you have been affected by anything in this article, help and support is available by calling the Samaritans 24-hour helpline 116123 or emailing [email protected].

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