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01/04/2020 - 13:51

Almost twice as many providing psychological counselling to University students

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Almost 40 Master's students in clinical psychology are now working for the Student Psychology Clinic, providing psychological counselling services in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic. The director of the Clinic says that demand for the services has grown considerably over the last weeks.

The Student Psychology Clinic has been run by the University of Iceland Faculty of Psychology since 2013. The Clinic trains postgraduate psychology students in clinical work, as well as providing University students and their children with psychological services. The Student Psychology Clinic diagnoses and treats various psychological problems.

According to the director, Gunnar Hrafn Birgisson, demand for the Clinic's services have continued to grow year after year. "Demand has never been higher than in this academic year; it was a record year even before COVID-19 came onto the scene. The waiting list was so long we didn't think we could get through it before the end of the year, and the epidemic increased demand still further," he explains. This tallies with the results of a survey conducted by the Student Council recently, which revealed that students' mental wellbeing was suffering in these unusual times.

The Student Psychology Clinic responded by expanding its services with the help of Master's students in applied clinical psychology. "On the one hand, 20 second-year psychology students, who have been providing therapy this winter under my guidance, have been taking on more cases. On the other hand, 17 psychology students in the first year of their Master's degree have volunteered to take on cases, although this is not something they are required to do as part of their studies. They are working under the guidance of teaching staff at the Faculty of Psychology: Urður Njarðvík, Andri S. Björnsson and Guðmundur Skarphéðinsson. It is new for the Faculty to have students in the first year of their MS providing psychotherapy, but they have experience of conducting diagnostic interviews with patients at the Student Psychology Clinic," says Gunnar, adding: "With this brilliant volunteering initiative from psychology students, we have been able to meet the increased demand, so far at least."

Since an assembly ban is currently in effect and the University closed, all psychological counselling is taking place online. "Our focus is on so-called 'telehealth'. Psychology students provide remote therapy using secure software. Guidance of the psychology students also takes place remotely, mainly through regular web conferences."

When asked how many students he thought the service could accommodate, Gunnar reported that the number of cases the Clinic has handled over the academic year is now approaching 140. "Of which there are about 70–75 cases being managed at the moment. Last winter, the total number of cases was 116, which we thought was a lot. The time taken to resolve each case varies. We discharge patients once certain goals have been achieved. When spaces free up, we fill them immediately. It is difficult to know exactly how many cases there will be over the academic year. We are doing what we can to meet the needs of University students who seek our help, but of course within realistic limits," says Gunnar.

But how should students get in touch if they want to access the services of the Student Psychology Clinic? "We keep it simple and at the moment, students can apply for services directly to me by emailing gunnarhb@hi.is. All I need to know is your name, ID number and telephone number and one sentence explaining what you need help with. Then I find a psychology student to take the case, they will get in touch with the patient and arrange a time for a remote session," says Gunnar.

It is worth adding that psychotherapy is also available from the psychologists at the University of Iceland Student Counselling and Career Centre. For further information, see the University website.

Gunnar Hrafn Birgisson