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Staff faction calls for ‘urgent’ attention to waiting time TU/e psychologists

Staff faction PUR wants the Executive Board to give "urgent attention to the waiting time for student psychologists." PUR made this appeal recently during the University Council meeting. Nicole Ummelen, vice-president of the Executive Board, says that it is "a valid concern" and that the channels of communication will be put under scrutiny.

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The earliest opportunity for an intake appointment with a student psychologist at TU/e is December the 16th. ‘Urgent’ cases, however, will be given priority. The personnel policy committee believes this is too long and raised the issue of the waiting time during the last University Council meeting.

Patrick Groothuis, director of the Education and Student Affairs (ESA) service, says that in the academic year 2018-2019, the average waiting time for an intake appointment was 26 calendar days. “That number was just slightly lower last academic year, and it has increased more than we would have liked at several moments during the past year. We believe that a waiting time of three weeks is acceptable - that corresponds with the national average of universities. Some universities have a shorter waiting time, but students then have to wait before counselling starts. At TU/e, students can start with counselling directly after the intake.” A waiting time, incidentally, never applies in case of urgent situations.

Main reasons

The main reasons for the problem, according to the director, are the increased number of students, and the longer waiting times for the general practitioner and the Dutch Association of Mental Health and Addiction Care (GGZ). “There’s also more attention to stress and burn-out nowadays, which certainly is a positive thing. In addition, international students generally suffer from more severe psychological problems, and more often as well. They also experience loneliness more often, tend to be insufficiently insured, usually don’t see a general practitioner, and it is more difficult to refer them to a psychologist.”

Groothuis says that the number of students who make an appointment to visit a psychologist sometimes shows an ‘unpredictable’ pattern. “The number of requests tends to increase during the run-up to a BSA, for instance. As soon as meetings on stress and burn-out take place, we immediately notice a strong influx of students who want to make an appointment with a psychologist, for instance after the Groep-één initiative ‘over the line.’ A ‘quick’ meeting with a psychologist because of exam stress, for instance, usually isn’t effective. That’s why we concentrate our efforts on (preventive) group interventions.” The peak moments are October/November/December, and April/May/June, the ESA director says.

ESA has taken, and will take, different measures to cut down waiting time. “We already made extra capacity of 0.5 FTE available last year, and we’ve entered ‘flexible capacity’ in next year’s budget, so that we can scale-up during peak moments.” The current number of student psychologist at TU/e expressed in FTE’s in 3.1. “In addition, we’ve expanded the training offer, and we intend to invest additional resources in this as well. When a student cancels an appointment, that time slot will immediately become available for a new intake. Students can help each other by not cancelling on short notice and not show up, for example.”

Improved collaboration and information provision

Groothuis also notes that students don’t always know for which problems they can contact a psychologist. This issue was also addressed during the University Council.

“Certain problems require a different kind of psychological help for which students can’t see a student psychologist. In this case it would be better to get a referral from the general practitioner to get the proper treatment. The information was recently adjusted so that it is now clearer where students can go to discuss their problems. In addition, we’re thinking about deploying health platforms, and we’re discussing proven concepts with other universities. The student counselling chain focusses a great deal of attention on this as well, and the student counselors are an important link. We hope that this improved collaboration and information provision will save time so that student can find the appropriate help sooner.”

Nicole Ummelen informed the University Council that PUR expressed "a valid concern" and that it is important that students know where they need to go for help. PUR member Ellen Konijnenberg says that it is a good sign that this issue is being taken up seriously. “We will keep our finger on the pulse and continue to monitor it.”

Cursor paid attention to this issue before, for instance in this article.

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