What assistance can students with mental-health difficulties expect from the DSS?

Supporting students with mental-health difficulties, the JU DSS offers adaptations of the course of their studies taking into consideration the student’s current health situation. The support the DSS offers focuses on equal educational opportunities for all and not treatment of such students. If they do not hold valid certificates issued by a psychiatrist or psychotherapist, it is possible to have a single consultative session with a psychiatrist aimed at finding out which individual adaptations in the course of their studies are needed depending on the student’s health. If a student has not been in psychiatric or/and psychotherapeutic treatment yet, a preliminary medical diagnosis can be made during such a session as well as recommendations as to further treatment. 

Is psychiatric treatment or psychotherapy available at the DSS?

The Service’s offer does not include psychiatric treatment or psychotherapy. The DSS consultants and the psychiatrist cooperating with the Service offer assistance in terms of suggesting healthcare units which do offer psychiatric treatment and psychotherapy adjusted to the needs of individual students. Although regular meetings with consultants are possible as part of cooperation between the students and the Service, they do not constitute psychotherapy or any other type of treatment. They are offered to support the students in organising their learning (e.g. planning learning for the purposes of an examination) or help them resolve current educational difficulties.

Why does the DSS not offer psychotherapy?

This is mainly related to the specific nature of psychotherapy itself. Psychotherapy is a treatment process where the most important and healing aspect is the relation between the patient and therapist. Building it takes time and for it to be effective the healing process typically lasts from one to several years, depending on the patient’s specific issues. Frequent changes of the therapist are not beneficial. The therapeutic process should be systematic, that is meetings ought to take place at least every week and skipping few successive sessions is not recommended. The themes discussed in psychotherapy concern all areas of the patient’s life, including those most intimate, never discussed with anyone else. Psychotherapy does not focus on educational difficulties although its goal is to treat disorders which may lead to difficulties in one’s performance of the role of a student. That is why the efficacy of psychotherapy will be visible in the student’s improved functioning in various areas of his/her life, not just his/her university study. 

As the Service operations are quite specific and consist in the development of appropriate educational strategies and adapting the course of studies, not much room is left for psychotherapeutic treatment as described above, particularly as regards  the duration of the process, ensuring its continuity with a single therapist and appropriate frequency of therapeutic sessions, as well as accessibility for all the students who need psychotherapy. The DSS cannot and should not replace healthcare centres in that domain. It would be irresponsible to promise students assistance as competent as that offered by healthcare units prepared to offer such services.

So where to seek treatment?

The DSS consultants and the psychiatrist cooperating with the service assist all those students who need psychotherapy in finding the right healthcare unit which offers psychotherapy meeting the requirements described above. In Krakow, there are many centres which offer both individual and group psychotherapy for most mental-health disorders. Apart from ensuring the appropriate quality and duration of the treatment also after graduation, the separation of the place of treatment from the place of one’s study has a number of other benefits. In particular, it fosters the subjective sense of the enhanced privacy of the treatment (although treatment secrecy is binding regardless of where the treatment takes place, it is subjective feelings that frequently have a negative impact on the therapeutic process) as well as not focusing exclusively on one’s educational difficulties (which may seem natural, if the treatment takes place in an educational institution).

Are other forms of support available at the DSS?

In 2010, the DSS offered a programme of adaptation support for a selected group of students with mental disorders called “Constellation Leo”. Since the last academic year the programme has been focusing on students who need such assistance most and remain in constant touch with the Service. The current successor of the programme is called “Leo”. Adaptation support is closely linked to education and improving the student’s performance of his/her academic role. And so such support is no treatment. It consists in weekly meetings (not more than ten) with a psychologist who provides assistance in, for instance, learning, memorising, notes preparation and learning planning techniques, all of which are individually selected taking into consideration the student’s educational difficulties. Our team members are convinced that offered in such a format and with such content, the “Leo” programme is the right proposition and our conviction is confirmed by the results so far as well as the number of students who continue university education thanks to the assistance they have received from the programme.

Dr. Edyta Dembińska, a psychiatrist cooperating with the JU DSS on a permanent basis 

Ireneusz Białek, Chief Coordinator of the JU DSS