Five questions for the student psychologist

Many students cope with fear of failure, study stress or emotional problems at some point during their university years. It’s not surprising that some of them hit a stumbling block that requires a little help to overcome. That help is offered by the student psychologist.

This week, thousands of young adults took their first steps in university life. As exciting as that is, it can also be nerve-racking and difficult. Because how do you juggle meeting new friends, making sure that you’re left with enough grocery money at the end of the month, and passing your courses?

Students who struggle with the pressures that come with their newly acquired freedom can seek the support of one of Tilburg University’s three student psychologists.Tilburg University’s student psychologists offer support to all students, including internationals. International students increasingly find their way to the student psychologists on campus, Jos Haarbosch says. “Students from abroad are often faced with additional challenges, such as language barriers, socio-cultural differences, homesickness, educational differences and housing problems.”The student psychologists offer short-term specialized help, aimed at study-related and personal problems. Univers got to fire five questions at one of them. Meet Jos Haarbosch.

1. What kind of problems do students come to you with?

“Students mostly come to us with issues such as study stress, fear of failure, concentration and motivation problems, a lack of self-discipline, or procrastination. Out of all the requests for help that we receive, 85 percent relates to those issues.

For some new students, the transition to independence is difficult. They have trouble finding a balance between free time and study time. It takes quite a bit of self-discipline and self-control, after all, to make time for serious studying between all of the fun and leisure. They struggle with procrastination behavior or they have difficulty bringing structure to their day. We also see students who are very disciplined and perfectionist. They want to excel at their studies, but also at their jobs and in their social lives. These students may feel overwhelmed.

And, of course, someone may also come to us with an entirely different problem.”

Jos Haarbosch

Jos Haarbosch

2. In which ways do you offer help?

“The student first fills out a digital registration form. Based on that, we assess how we can best be of help to him or her. We take a unique and personal approach to each individual. Depending on the request for help, we then use various intervention strategies specifically designed for the student population.

If we can provide help ourselves, that usually takes the form of a series of talking sessions or an individual coaching cycle. We may also advise someone to follow a workshop or training in mindfulness, for example, or in positive perfectionism or time management. Aside from providing the tools to deal with certain problems, these trainings also give participants the reassurance that other students are struggling with such issues too.

Sometimes, a student advisor or a career coach may be better equipped to help the student move forward. Or it can be necessary to refer a student to a psychologist outside our university for more intensive therapy. In that case, they are referred via the general practitioner.”

3. Today’s students often have big loans to pay off, they work part-time jobs, they build a strong cv with extracurricular activities, and in addition to all that they also have to finish their studies. Do students suffer from stress and burnout more often nowadays?

“Stress is one of the most common complaints that students report, and chronic stress can progress into burnout symptoms. That’s a bigger issue today than it was in the past. In the past, problems such as procrastination and a lack of assertiveness were reported much more often. The pressure to excel in all aspects of life has increased due to the ‘open and opportunity-rich’ world in which students live. The smartphone can be useful in that world, but it also brings risks.

Things become problematic when intrinsic and societal pressures intensify each other. Especially students who have a tendency to be perfectionist and overly committed can easily become overwhelmed. They think they can achieve anything as long as they work hard enough, but life is not that simple.”

4. Has your approach changed over the years?

“I believe I’ve taken a more direct and guiding role in my conversations with students. But I doubt whether that’s the result of my personal development. This new approach is probably simply a consequence of the fact that we don’t get to spend as much time on conversations with students. Where students used to have more time for their studies, we used to have more time for one-to-one talking sessions. In that respect, we have both been influenced by the developments of our time.”

5. What do you enjoy about working as a student psychologist?

“I personally find my job to be inspiring and challenging, especially because students often come to us with important life questions. Rightly so, they expect us to take those questions seriously and help them move beyond their comfort zone. Most students have the courage to be critical and assertive, which makes my job really interesting. There’s often something unexpected and new that pops up. It keeps me young!”

Reading tip

How do other students cope with difficulties in their lives? Do they reach out for support or do they deal with their problems on their own? You can read all about it on the website Ik student, run by the student doctors of the University of Amsterdam. Forty students share their personal experiences with fatigue, stress, burnout, sombreness and other psychological issues.

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