Kirsten Amis, Glasgow Clyde College, explains how additional funding for counsellors in Scotland’s colleges has resulted in the rebirth and expansion of the Colleges Counselling Network Scotland.

Supporting the psychological and emotional wellbeing of students in Scottish colleges is not straightforward. College students often arrive having had challenging experiences in education, and college is quite often a second or third chance to study or, for adult returners, to retrain in a different career. This means our student population are usually very distinct to that of universities and come with their own particular vulnerabilities. Based on presenting issues at our service, these may include low confidence, poverty, unemployment, high anxiety levels, exam stress and relationship issues. This diversity married with the wide variety of colleges across the country means that one size doesn’t fit all.

I have managed the counselling service at Glasgow Clyde College (previously Anniesland College) since 1999. This is giving me considerable insight into the challenges and issues that supporting college students can bring. When I started my doctoral research in 2012, I was keen to focus on supporting the mental wellbeing of college students and realised pretty quickly that college counsellors were all working in isolation. Unlike universities which have well developed, embedded mental health support services, in colleges we have had to fit in to pre-existing generic support departments.

When I first started contacting colleges to connect with fellow counsellors, we had 43 colleges in Scotland but so few counsellors we could have had our meeting in the back of a taxi. We were so small that we welcomed managers of student support services to bolster our membership. We agreed right at the outset that we were always going to find it difficult to find time to meet so should use our meetings to their best advantage. We developed a structure allowing us to share best practice, invite a guest speaker, complete a task and feedback from the previous meeting’s task. One such task was developing a made-to-measure assessment tool and outcome measure which combines therapeutic focus with college requirements and guest speakers included representatives of Education Scotland and British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. We took it in turns to host the meetings in our different colleges which offered insight into the range of environments we were working in (and most importantly, the standard of catering offered!). The pressure of our client work meant we found it increasingly challenging to meet and our triannual gatherings slowly dwindled to the point where we stopped organising meetings.

Recently, with the support of CDN, the Scottish Government funding to increase counselling provision within colleges and the wide acceptance of Zoom/ Microsoft Teams, the Colleges Counselling Network Scotland was reborn. We currently have 68 members, plan monthly meetings and have the systems in place to keep in touch and offer ongoing support between well-established counselling services and those newly developing. The enforced use of remote delivery of appointments has brought many challenges but also encouraged creativity and confidence to introduce new ways of working. Our membership now consists of qualified counsellors establishing bespoke and efficacious psychological and emotional support for college students across Scotland.

If you are interested in joining this group, or want to find out more, please email Sandy Maclean, CDN Curriculum and Teaching Lead:

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