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Counselling Services at UNBC. What, who, how, and other questions you might have about counselling services. Interview with the coordinator of counselling services

You probably heard multiple times that your mental health is as important as your physical health, and you should take good care of it. You are also likely to hear about the UNBC wellness center and that they have free counselling services for all UNBC students. Unfortunately, despite all the attempts by our community, mental health and visiting counsellor is still surrounded by stigma. Even if know about the counselling services there is a big chance that you have questions about it. You might have wondered what they do or how it works, whether your problems are worth visiting, and maybe you faced some other common questions or misconceptions about counselling. So I talked to the coordinator of counselling services, Margaret Fuller, to find answers to some of the most common questions and misconceptions about counselling, so you can have less fear and more information about how to take care of your mental health.

1)  What is the wellness center at UNBC and where can I find counselling services? UNBC Wellness center provides health (counselling, medical, and student accommodation) related services to UNBC students for free. It consists of three departments: counselling services, medical health clinic, and ARC (academic resource center). It is an interdisciplinary center meaning that different health providers (nurse practitioners, doctors, counsellors, and even a psychiatrist) work together to promote students’ health and safety. They also share a database system to serve student-client better, however, this database is not shared with the administration or faculty.

2) Would you tell my parents or teachers that I had a session with a counsellor? One of the most common fears related to visiting counselling services, especially on campus, is that your information will be shared with your professors, parents, or coaches. The answer is no. At the counselling center your information is never shared with your parents or anyone else, unless you want to and then you must sign a form to give the counsellors permission to do so.  Counsellors are bound by the confidentiality agreement with their clients (you). It means they cannot tell anyone (whether it’s administration, faculty, family, employers etc.) that you have visited them and what you discussed in your meeting. Even if someone requests information about whether you visited the counselling center, they cannot say anything. 

Moreover, the database used in the Wellness center is not shared with the rest of the university, so the administration will never be able to access your information. The database is only shared within the Wellness services (between the medical office, counselling, and ARC), which is done for your convenience in case you need to be referred to other specialists. That being said, counsellors cannot discuss your case with anyone without you being aware and giving consent.

The only time a counsellor might share the information with someone if there is a risk of harm to self or others, and even then the counsellor will discuss it with you before going to outside sources. And the reason it might be done is to provide you with the support outside of their office and provide you with the necessary resources. In any case, the counsellors work collaboratively with the student-client to keep them safe. Remember, that the counselling office is a safe and respectful place, so you should not be worried about sharing what bothers you.

3) Why do people visit counsellors?  People visit counsellors for a variety of reasons. Often people see a counsellor to talk about their problems, stress, emotions, and relationship issues. People also come here because they need a neutral space where they can share their problems or what bothers them with someone they do not know, as it might be easier sometimes to talk to a stranger than to your family member or a friend.

People also visit a counsellor to be heard, have a safe space, and explore what is happening in their minds and emotions. A counselling session is a safe place where a person can work with a counsellor to find hope, strategies to cope or adjust, and new ways of thinking and doing things. “Ultimately, the idea behind counselling is, so people are not alone with their struggles. Counselling provides clients with a relationship and a safe space for people to be heard, valued, and validated in their struggles because it is okay to struggle as we are all humans,” – summarizes Margaret.

4) I am scared to visit because maybe my problem is not serious enough? No problem is too big or too small!  Everyone has a right to visit a counsellor here. Sometimes it might take some time to get an appointment due to high volume, but it does not mean your problem is irrelevant. No matter what your struggling with, if it is important to you, it’s worth talking about. Every person is unique and has unique problems. So, fairly everything is important. 

That being said, if you face technical difficulties with math or other school objects, tutoring services will be more helpful. However, if some of your thoughts prevent you from succeeding in the classroom or in other areas of your life (e.g. “I am not good enough to be in a math class” or “I am not good enough to get a good grade”), the counselling center is the right place.

5) I am worried about what the counsellor will think of me when I share my problems. Your worries make sense. All of us quite often wonder about what others think about us. It is not easy to come to a professional to disclose what bothers you. It is brave to be vulnerable and scared – all of that is very human, and it is okay to be afraid. At the counselling session, together with your counsellor, you get to know your ‘scared’ and try to make it okay, because everyone gets scared from time to time. 

When you visit counsellors, they encourage you to ask questions and learn what people might think about you. The counsellor will notice if it is something that concerns you, and you can discuss it together safely and respectfully. 

It is important to make sure that you fit with your counsellor; it is part of the counselling process to learn what works for you. However, remember that it takes time to build a relationship with your counsellor, so give it time.

6) What are the signs that person should visit a counsellor? The biggest sign that you might need to talk to a counsellor is when you start isolating yourself from people around you and you get too much into your head, not letting people see what is happening. Another sign is avoiding school, work, or other healthy routine activities, which might be a sign to signify depression or strong anxiety. Thoughts of self-harm are the other important sign that you should talk to a counsellor or mental health professional. Things like not feeling like yourself for a while, not eating enough, not wanting to do things that are normal to you, not sleeping, not feeling like getting out of bed, or feeling too angry or scared without knowing why –  are all the signs that you might want to talk to a counsellor or a medical health provider.

Remember that you can also go to the health clinic for some of these questions. And you can even do a mental health check-up there, just like a physical health check-up when your body does not feel great. There you can talk to a medical provider about what has been going on with you and what you can do about it. 

If you feel like your problem is immediate and the wellness center is closed at the moment, you can always call the following resources (free and confidential) : 

  • www. HERE2TALK is a FREE 24/7 counselling service available to all BC post secondary students online by chat or over the phone when the Wellness Centre is close.
  • Northern BC Crisis Line: 1-888-562-1214 or 250-563-1214
  • Empower Me, tall-free (24/7): 1-833-628-5589

7) What to expect from the visit? How does it go? Will it help me right away? Typically, a session takes about an hour long. During your first meeting with the professional, whether a medical health provider or a counsellor, they want to get to know you. They will ask you some intake questions (common questions you probably heard if you visited a doctor or even a physiotherapist) and tell you about confidentiality. Your counsellor will also talk about what you can do together and what the process might look like. They, of course, will discuss your thought and expectations and what you want to get out of this experience. Overall, the professional you meet will try to get to know you, your hopes and goals, and your struggles. They want to learn about you to help you in the best possible way because it is about you and your needs, not your counsellors. It is a safe and respectful space where you can share and work through your struggles. 

At the end of the meeting, the counsellor will ask you if you want to meet again or not because we are all different. While some people will need only one visit, others might need more than one – and it’s all OKAY. 

I hope this article helped you to learn more about the counselling services, and the help you can get on campus. If you struggle with anything in your life and feel like you need help or even simply to talk to someone outside your everyday circle, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a counsellor. It doesn’t necessarily need to be on campus, but make sure you take care of your mental health because it is essential! And remember there is no problem that it is too small or too big, it’s all important! 

Here are some mental health resources that are free of charge and can provide you with the help you might need:

  • UNBC Wellness center: phone 250-960-6369 Email: [email protected] (Monday to Friday 9:00am – 4:00pm, closed for lunch 12:00 – 1:30pm)
  • UNBC Medical Clinic: phone 250-960-6370 (Monday to Thursday 9:00am – 4:00pm, closed for lunch 12:00 – 1:30pm. Friday 9:00 am – 12:00 pm)
  • Northern BC Crisis Centre: 250-563-1214 or 1-800-562-1214
  • Youth Crisis Line: phone: 1-888-564-8336, text:250-564-8336 
  • Sexual Violence and Misconduct: 250-564-8302, unbc.ca/sexual-violence
  • Additionally, there is a weekly Just Move Walk & Talk Drop In Group – every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, meet at the T&L building

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