Smart People Go to Therapy (Because they are Vulnerable)
On December 9-10, the HSE Centre for Psychological Counselling is joining with the HSE Centre of Leadership and Volunteering to organize a psychology weekend where experienced psychologists will speak about how to talk to employers, effective communication, and time management. On the first day of the weekend, a workshop on studying and working in a multicultural environment will be held in English, which will give international students the ability to participate as well.
December is arguably one of the most stressful and emotional months of the year. It is dark and gloomy outdoors, students and instructors are preparing for exams, and everyone is reviewing the year, which sometimes turns out differently from what we had expected. This is an opportune time to talk to psychologists and sort everything out.
Why go to counselling
The Centre for Psychological Counselling has existed as part of HSE for almost 15 years. On average, over 1,500 people visit its psychologists each year. According to the Centre Director Irina Makarova, the HSE Centre for Psychological Counselling is the largest not only in Moscow, but throughout Russia. ‘When it all started in 2003, our centre had only one employee – myself’, she said, ‘and today, we have 7 staff psychologists and 20 interns’.
Any university, especially one as big as HSE, sees considerable demand for psychologists’ support. A university attracts a lot of smart and ambitious people from various countries who face constant intellectual and emotional stress. ‘Students in general and particularly HSE students are special people. They are different from most young people when it comes to intelligence, motivation, and hard work’, said Irina Makarova. ‘On one hand, that’s what makes us stronger. But on the other hand, we feel that we are different and that makes us vulnerable’. Judging by the centre’s popularity, many students have realized that they no longer fear psychologists and get in touch with them before everything is bad’.
Psychologists say that people should go to therapy to avoid conditions such as ‘everything is difficult’, ‘it’s all over’, and ‘it’s all rotten’. Our mistake is that we don’t react to our condition when we are only beginning to feel increased stressed. We think that we should be a little patient, and that everything will be fixed. But the stress grows, and sometimes we can’t even assess its real level. Since the resources of our mentality are not limitless, what comes next is what we call an emotional breakdown. After that, people need rehabilitation and restoration, and sometimes they try to achieve it through destructive means, such as alcohol use and antisocial behaviour. They want to destroy – injure themselves, break things, humiliate or hit other people. They should go to therapy long before they have such thoughts in order to understand what’s going on, set priorities, and learn to take care of themselves.
Do you want to talk about it?
One of the key questions that students want to discuss at the Centre is relationships: with new friends, lecturers, and loved ones. It is not uncommon that students, particularly first- and second-year undergraduates, are worried about their relationships with parents. Admission to the university, moving to another city, and other new problems – it’s a complicated time for parents as well, since their kids are suddenly not kids anymore. According to Irina Makarova, parents often come to the Centre, too, when they want to understand what has happened and how to deal with that, how to cope with the fact that their son or daughter has become an independent adult. It comes as a surprise for the parents that they can’t check their children’s homework anymore, and that they have to delegate responsibility. When students move to another city, it often becomes a reason for conflicts between parents. This is known as ‘empty nest syndrome’, when parents no longer need to care about a younger family member, and it turns out that this was the only thing that created a bond among the adults.
The second common reason to contact the Centre is the attitude to oneself: everything that has to do with self-esteem, self-dissatisfaction, inability to find one’s position at a specific department, the choice of future career, and so on. In addition, students often experience depression, fears and phobias, and emotional instability.
How it works
The main method used at the centre is individual conversation, and regular work always starts with a one-on-one meeting. However, if needed, each psychologist may offer their clients other options, such as body-oriented psychotherapy, drawing and interpretation, metaphorical mapping, and psychodrama. These kinds of therapies may also be organized in groups. Group sessions are a new field for the centre, but the psychologists have already realized that they are in high demand.
At the psychology weekend, group sessions will be led by invited coaches who are experts in business games and career guidance. One session will be held in English, so that international students can take part alongside Russian students.
‘Cross-cultural communication is also our experiment’, said Irina Makarova. ‘HSE is becoming an international university, attracting more and more international students. We understand that Russian students and lecturers should be prepared for the multicultural environment, and the students who come to Russia should get support. This is an important and promising area of our activities’.
Each session will last three hours. To take part, please register in advance. Links to register are available on this Facebook post. Register here for the cross-cultural communication session in English. If you can’t make it this weekend, don’t be upset: another Psychology Weekend will be held on December 23.
Sharing experiences throughout Russia
The work of a psychological service at a university, certainly, has it specifics. University psychologists from all over Russia and neighbouring countries exchanged experiences at the First All-Russia Research and Practice Conference with International Participation ‘University Psychological Service: Reality and Prospects for the Future’, which was organized by the HSE Centre of Psychological Counseling. The conference attracted over 300 participants, university psychological professionals, who came from St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Pyatigorsk, Krasnodar, Tomsk, and Belgorod, as well as the Republic of Moldova and the Republic of Belarus.
According to Irina Makarova, the university psychologists’ work is developing in two directions today. The first is very similar to the traditional school approach, which means monitoring the students’ psychological condition and carrying out a lot of tests. If someone appears to fall out of the norm, the tests are followed up with a number of correction activities, which aim to bring the person’s behavior to a certain standard.
Irina Makarova spoke with the conference participants about the second approach, which is the basis for the HSE Centre of Psychological Counselling. She believes that an individual who has entered a university is not a kid anymore. And while a lot lies ahead in terms of individual development, the structure of the person has already evolved and developed. It’s important to understand that any individual is beyond norms and standards. That’s why the main thing in a psychologist’s work is to accept and support the value and individuality of each person.