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The University Times: College Counselling Criticised over "Cruel" Wait Times, Too Few Counsellors and Lack of Diversity Within Staff

In collaboration with Alex Payne and Clara Roche.

At the next Student Life Committee meeting, the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) will present a document entitled ‘State of College Counselling and Health Service’. The document contains “never-before-seen” statistics regarding College Health and the College Counselling Service. TCDSU President László Molnárfi that the aim of the document is to “encourage more investment into these services”. 

In the document, while TCDSU acknowledges that “these vital supports have consistently proven their excellence in assisting our students’ mental and physical well-being”, challenges such as “chronic underfunding” have led to “excessively long waiting lists”. 

Wait times for the College Counselling Service have almost doubled since the 2017/18 academic year. Students wishing to access regular counselling services must first attend an assessment appointment, and wait times for these initial assessments have grown from a little over one week in 2017/18 to just over two weeks in 2021/22. Wait times for these assessment appointments peaked during the first year of pandemic, when they were marginally higher than they are now. 

If the initial assessment appointment qualifies the student for regular counselling, the incurred wait time has almost doubled from three weeks in 2017/18 to five and a half weeks in 2021/22. This figure peaked in the 2020/21 academic year, at close to two months. An external review of College Counselling from earlier this year noted that now, “many students are seen every two to three weeks instead of weekly”. 

Stock image of a counselling session/Pexels

TCDSU noted in the document that emergency appointments are not included in the above calculations, as they are processed and attended to the day they are requested. 

A demographic breakdown revealed that 1,990 undergraduate students, roughly 13 per cent of the cohort, accessed the services in 2021/22, compared to 650, or 10.1 per cent, postgraduates. TCDSU found that EU and non-EU students accessed the services at roughly equal rates, at 12.2 per cent and 13% respectively. 

In the year 2021/22, Trinity counsellors saw more clients than 99% of the 626 student counselling services included in the relevant dataset. 

The document made reference to the results of a survey conducted by Students4Change (S4C) last year. Several students reported waiting four to six weeks for an appointment, and S4C later protested for more funding to the College Counselling Services. 

The document also states the need for a “dedicated off-campus student counsellor” of which there currently is none. At the recommendation of the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) advisory group, the report explored the ethnic breakdown of the College Counselling staff and found that “all College Counselling staff members are white”. 

The report found that in the last ten years, the ratio of counsellors to students has increased from 1:2300 to 1:5500, yet still falls short of the “recommended safe ratio” of 1:00 to 1:1500. TCDSU attributed this to “various administrative, staffing or logistical challenges”. Despite improvements in the staff-to-student ratio, the waitlists show a “steady, and then a significant increase” since 2015. According to TCDSU, this suggests that the service “is not resourced to handle".

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