Nellia Kornilova – World Englishes: Accents and Globalisation
This episode features Nellia Kornilova, a third year BA student studying European and International Social and Political Studies at UCL, International Officer at Students’ Union UCL and co-founder of the multidisciplinary blog The Gazetta. Nellia is also a member of the PsychUP for WellbeingAdvisory Board and is part of the Services and Pathways working group.
In this episode, Nellia discusses multilingualism, learning English, and the unique interaction between accents and identity. She also draws on her experience as an International Officer and voices the concerns of international students, whilst providing her own heart-warming perspectives.
Post by Susie Haynes, Clinical Psychologist, previously on placement as a trainee with PsychUP for Wellbeing from October 2020 – March 2021 (historic post from Spring 2021).
Reading Time: ~ 3 mins
Susie Haynes reflects on a fruitful workshop aimed at improving PsychUP for Wellbeing‘s student engagement strategy. Carry on reading to check out our team’s shared formulation of some of the facilitators and barriers to co-production.
As a Trainee Clinical Psychologist on placement at PsychUP for Wellbeing, I was delighted to facilitate some co-production workshops for the programme team and student members of the Advisory Board – and I want to start this blog post by thanking all the students gave their valuable contributions to these discussions.
Our workshops began with the question: How can we increase participation across the student population, so that more voices can be heard?
PsychUP for Wellbeing aims to increase participation from students so that all of our projects appeal to students, represent their experiences and are effective in targeting the issues they face. Students bring passion and insight to our work, so, naturally, we want more of their help! Follow this link to see how you can get involved.
Developing a shared understanding
As a starting point, we thought it would be important to develop a shared formulation1 of the factors associated with student engagement. Within group discussions, we established possible motivators, benefits, barriers and costs of co-production for students.
By drawing upon principles of systemic theory, I mapped our ideas onto the Ecological Systems Theory framework2, which can be seen below:
Many of the incentives currently offered to students to encourage engagement in co-production appeared to be aimed at individuals (for example, personal skills development, references, support for CV, remuneration). We noticed this contrasted with many of the barriers the team had identified, which existed at the wider environmental levels (such as stigma, lack of time and caring responsibilities).
Many of the incentives the team identified appeared to be aimed at individuals, whereas many of the barriers existed at the wider environmental levels
A new perspective was opened up by our discussions and we agreed it was important to reach out to student groups and communities to break down some of the barriers to getting involved. We discussed communicating through different virtual and real life spaces to contact students where they feel comfortable, e.g. student societies.
The student Board members agreed with our formulation and some were able to personally relate to some of the barriers listed, including perceived lack of confidence and skills and worries around challenging an ‘expert’ culture. They also reflected on how mental health is perceived and stigmatised in many cultural, spiritual and religious backgrounds and how this can act as a significant barrier to engagement.
These initial conversations were really rich and thought provoking, and the student Board members had lots of ideas for how to engage students in the future – including open forums on our website, increasing visibility, co-produced advertisement methods and more informal communication methods. They are currently working on building these changes into our updated programme co-production strategy. Look out for future updates on this blog!
Johnstone, L. (2018). Psychological formulation as an alternative to psychiatric diagnosis. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 58(1), 30-46. back
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). Contexts of child rearing: Problems and prospects. American psychologist, 34(10), 844. back
Post by Tori Sasaki, MSc student and Peer Link Worker with PsychUP for Wellbeing and Students’ Union UCL
Reading time: ~ 3 mins
PsychUP for Wellbeing and Students’ Union UCL have teamed up to pilot peer support sessions for students at UCL, as part of the Student Mental Health Partnerships projects funded by the Office for Students and led by UWE Bristol. Tori describes this new model of support and reflects on the experience of being a Peer Link Worker. Find out more about the sessions and book a slot with a Peer Link Worker here.
The Peer Link Worker pilot project is a collaboration between PsychUP for Wellbeing, Students’ Union UCL and the UCL University Clinic. It began in May of this year and will run until December, with the goal of using feedback from the pilot to inform a longer-term project. All newly-recruited Peer Link Workers receive training so they can support their fellow students effectively. Peer Link Workers offer remote one-to-one and group support sessions, as well as remote follow-up workshops to psychoeducational videos that Trainee Clinical Psychologists have made on topics such as assertiveness, perfectionism, and stress and relaxation. We recently ran a group session focused on students’ feelings about returning to campus this year and are working on creating group sessions based on other topics as well. Individual support sessions have been run every day during the pilot, Monday to Friday. Support is open to all UCL students. Students come to us for one or two sessions, during which they also learn about other types of support services offered that fit their individual needs.
As well as benefiting students who sign up to the service, Peer Link Workers are also trained in incredibly valuable skills.
I was particularly drawn to the Peer Link Worker project because it aligns both with my value of helping others and with my goal of going on to pursue a career in the mental health field. The project not only benefits students who sign up to the service by offering them much-needed emotional support and help navigating different situations and resources at UCL and beyond, but it also trains the Peer Link Workers in incredibly valuable skills. These skills include how to properly use self-disclosure of our own experiences, how to set and maintain appropriate boundaries, how to navigate different communication styles, and the best course of action to support a student who is in crisis. These are skills that will be useful in any individual’s personal and professional life, especially if one is pursuing a career as a mental health professional.
Peer Link Worker training at a glance1: Boundaries
One of the special aspects about the student-peer relationship is shared experience. Of course, every student has elements of their university experience which are unique to them, and it is the Peer Link Worker’s job to truly listen to what the student is saying and to refrain from making assumptions. However, many students share similar struggles including dealing with mental ill-health on top of coursework, the pressure to get top marks, the financial burdens of being a student, and navigating friendships and romantic relationships. Therefore, another student is in a uniquely helpful position to support their fellow students. It is also notable that the relationship between the Peer Link Worker and the student seeking support is a non-hierarchical one: Peer Link Workers approach the conversation as a peer and not as a mental health professional.
I am grateful that this Peer Link Worker project has been able to continue into this academic year, especially as the start of the year can be a time of overwhelming amounts of information as well as new experiences and challenges. More than 50 students have been supported through the pilot to date. I hope that students continue to utilise this new resource, and that they come away from sessions feeling listened to, validated, and supported during their student experience.
More about the Peer Link Worker pilot and evaluation
You can find out more about the peer support pilot and book a session on the Students’ Union UCL website here.
PsychUP for Wellbeing are carrying out an evaluation of the pilot to see how it helps students. When you book a support session with a Peer Link Worker, you can opt into the evaluation and give us feedback on how you found it.
1 The UCL peer support training was adapted from the Health Education England Competency Framework and Care City training.
Gladys Hui graduated from her BSc Psychology course at UCL last summer. Her dissertation was part of the IMPACTS projects and looked at the barriers preventing Chinese students from attending formal mental health services. She has remained an associate of PsychUP for Wellbeing and has co-designed the cultural connections buddy scheme with Lyndsey Li. This scheme aims to facilitate the formation lasting cross-cultural friendships by pairing international and UK students.
Since graduating, Gladys has been working as a Trainee Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner at Mind and is training at UCL. In this podcast she eloquently discusses her journey so far, reflecting on her cultural identity and perspectives on race. It provides fantastic insight into her experience of going to Hong Kong International School and boarding school in the UK, and being an international student at UCL. We hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we did!
Post by Phoebe Barnett, PhD student and Research Assistant. You can follow Phoebe on Twitter.
Reading time: ~3 mins
Clinicians delivering psychotherapeutic treatments to students may choose to adapt their interventions, to try and account for their unique context. In this post, Phoebe Barnett outlines the findings from her recent systemic review, which investigated whether current adaptations to treatments for students are working.
Student counselling services have reported considerable increases in the number of students accessing care. Alongside this, they report that their clients are presenting with more severe mental illnesses. While this is likely to be at least partly caused by widening access to university, recent reports have highlighted that student-specific concerns, such as academic pressure, financial distress, substance misuse and family upset are rising1,2.
Many of the current psychological therapies delivered to students were originally designed for the general population, and may therefore miss important factors related to student distress. One possible way in which student mental healthcare could be improved is by designing specialised treatments for students; for example, by targeting the prevention of suicide and self-harm 3,4. As students are easy to recruit, previous research has often included them in their samples. However, the research rarely aims to establish what works best for them specifically. It is important to understand how to support mental health needs in this specific population, and how we can further adapt evidence-based treatment so students feel the support available to them is relevant to the difficulties they are facing.
I therefore systematically reviewed the evidence from randomised-controlled trials of psychological therapy conducted in student populations. In doing this I aimed to establish if a specific focus on adaptation would work better than generic approaches.
In general, psychological treatments are effective in reducing students’ symptoms of depression, anxiety disorders and eating disorders. This result, although unsurprising, is important because depression and anxiety disorders are the most common in students. There is also overrepresentation of eating disorders in students, compared with non-students. Unfortunately, few investigations into treatments for PTSD in students have been conducted, and, despite recent reports of suicide rates in students increasing5,6, we did not find any studies which focussed on either self-harm or suicidal ideation.
Only a small number of studies, 13 out of 84, specifically adapted their intervention for students. When we compared studies looking at adapted and non-adapted treatments, adapted interventions did not lead to better outcomes or greater adherence to treatment. Those who received adapted treatments actually fared worse in most cases.
Those who received adapted interventions actually fared worse in most cases. Concerns about students dropping out would be better addressed with interventions focused on motivation, rather than reducing treatment length.
These results seemed counterintuitive at first, however when we looked into this in more detail, some of the adaptations did not fully encompass what students may need from mental health support. For example, a common assumption was that students lack the motivation to attend longer treatment programmes (although this point is disputed and contradicts some recent qualitative research I have conducted). Three studies sought to achieve better outcomes by reducing the treatment intensity: one delivered web-based sessions, one reduced the total number of sessions and the final study provided a single session of low-intensity treatment. But our review found no evidence that reducing treatment intensity in this way benefitted patients in terms of symptom reduction and treatment tolerability. It was not clear whether the shortening of previously evidence-based treatment models removed key “ingredients” which, in turn, hindered the effectiveness. We suggest that concerns about students dropping out would be better addressed by focussing on motivation, rather than potentially sacrificing important elements of therapy by reducing treatment length.
Positive effects were seen in two studies who provided more sessions alongside evidence-based adaptations, suggesting a potential avenue for further research.
In sum, psychological treatments can be beneficial for students, but so far they have not been fully optimised for them. There remains a lot of uncertainty over how we can provide interventions to students in a way that suits them best. A greater understanding of context-specific causes of mental health problems and distress could lead to more promising treatments for students.
Doerr, J. M., Ditzen, B., Strahler, J., Linnemann, A., Ziemek, J., Skoluda, N., Nater, U. M. (2015). Reciprocal relationship between acute stress and acute fatigue in everyday life in a sample of university students. Biological Psychology, 110, 42–49.back
Murray, A. L., McKenzie, K., Murray, K. R., & Richelieu, M. (2015). An analysis of the effectiveness of university counselling services. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 44, 1309139.back
Gawrysiak, M., Nicholas, C., Hopko, D.R., 2009. Behavioral activation for moderately depressed university students: randomized controlled trial. Journal of Counseling Psychology 56 (3), 468-475back
McIndoo, C., File, A., Preddy, T., Clark, C., Hopko, D., 2016. Mindfulness-based therapy and behavioral activation: A randomized controlled trial with depressed college students. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 77 118–128. https://doi.org/10.1016/j. brat.2015.12.012.back
Horgan, A., Kelly, P., Goodwin, J., Behan, L., 2018. Depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation among Irish undergraduate college students. Issues in mental health nursing 39 (7), 575–584.back
Read, J.P., Griffin, M.J., Wardell, J.D., Ouimette, P., 2014. Coping, PTSD symptoms, and alcohol involvement in trauma-exposed college students in the first three years of college. Psychology of addictive behaviours 28 (4), 1052. back
SuperdiverseUCL is a podcast series funded by UCL Grand Challenges and co-hosted by Jiawei Ding and Lyndsey Li. They want to promote cultural awareness and inclusiveness through fortnightly conversations on a range of topics, with UCL students from different cultural backgrounds.
In the past few years studying at UCL as international students, we felt there was so much we could learn from conversations with our fellow students. UCL is an international university – 53% of our students come from countries outside the UK. Even within the UK student community there is lots of cultural diversity.
Conversations with people from other cultures allow us to learn about different people, giving us new perspectives, making us more curious and open-minded, and enabling us to embrace differences in the changing world. However, these opportunities are often lost.
We want to showcase and celebrate diversity, not simply label students by their race, ethnicity or nationality
Although there are calls to celebrate diversity, some students still find it challenging to engage and feel included. International students from a different backgrounds may feel out of place and find it difficult to approach new people, whilst home students have also told us they also struggle to find the right opportunities to connect with international students. These challenges may have been more significant this year, with teaching and student activities moved online because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
We have called the podcast ‘superdiverse’ because we want to showcase and celebrate diversity, not simply label students by their race, ethnicity, or nationality. We understand that everyone’s journey is unique, and we’d like to hear about the different views and stories that each individual journey has brought.
We are hoping that by participating in and listening to the podcast, students feel empowered to contribute to cross-cultural discussions in an active way. We hope our conversations will introduce you to new perspectives, and virtually accompany you at this unprecedented time.
The remote therapy experiment brought about by the pandemic has had a silver lining, as therapy has become more accessible to many people. Keeping some form of online therapy is desirable for this reason, but it does raise new challenges for communication. Chloe Campbell reflects on how a psychological understanding of trust can help us understand online communication better.
Psychological therapy is not new or special: that is why it works. Humans beings have – for as long as we have had language – sought out other people’s minds, thoughts and perspectives in order to regulate their own state of mind.
Infants do it all the time and perhaps most obviously – a baby or young child is not only dependent on their caregivers for physical survival, but also to restore their sense of comfort, safety or to help them make sense of the world together.
This joining of minds, known as ‘joint intentionality’, is crucial to human development. Recent evolutionary thinking has suggested it underpins the sophisticated social cognitive skills that make the human species unique. It enables teaching and learning, sophisticated planning and collaboration – in essence it makes social cohesion and the development of culture possible.
To be able to do all these complicated and demanding social cognitions, we need to be able to think about the mental states of other people and ourselves, an ability known as ‘mentalizing’. But mentalizing requires imagination – we cannot know for certain what is going on in other peoples’ minds, and even thinking about our own mental states is a highly abstract undertaking.
The human imagination allows us to do extraordinary things – from being able to think sensitively about someone else’s pain or distress, to being able to write and read great literature, to being able to make the abstract leaps in ideas that lead to ground-breaking scientific breakthroughs.
We all need to access to other people’s thoughts to help us manage our own – to moor our imaginations to something more helpful for us, or indeed with reality
The flipside of our marvellous imaginative capacities is that sometimes our ability to think in such ways can, when unregulated, lead to intense psychological distress. Many forms of anxiety and depression can be understood as being, in some way, the product of our minds working away at great abstract capacity but with insufficient alignment with our social reality.
This is where other people’s minds come in. We all need, at times, to access to other people’s thoughts to help us manage our own – to moor our imaginations to something more in line with what is helpful for us, or indeed with reality.
This is the power of joint intentionality and cooperative thinking. But a further complication in all this arises from another downside of human social complexity: not all humans can be trusted and opening up to the wrong person could leave you vulnerable.
As a result of this, we have also evolved the capacity to be highly sensitive to cues from other people that might suggest whether or not they (a) have something useful to say and (b) have our best interests at heart.
And it is here that the communication that is relevant to effective psychotherapy comes in. The kinds of cues that we are sensitive to are often highly interpersonal.
If we feel the other person is truly interested and capable of recognising us – even those parts of us that are hidden, perhaps even partly to ourselves – then that is a powerful cue that the other person is sufficiently invested in us for us to be able to think with them, to learn from them, and to use their mind to regulate our own.
Once we have had some practise accepting this in the therapeutic relationship, we can go on to build on what we have learnt in our daily lives. With a bit of luck, a virtuous circle might be activated – and treatment has become “effective”.
Of course, if the outside world does not support these developments, then it is much harder, and in some circumstances perhaps impossible, for the virtuous cycle to really keep rolling. After all, if we live in a hostile environment, where other people’s minds aren’t capable of investing benignly in each other’s, it would be a mistake to adopt such cooperative openness to others’ mental states.
So, where does this leave us with remote therapy?
The task of the remote practitioner is the same. Their work depends on their capacity to evoke in the client the same sense they have been recognised, that the practitioner is interested and invested in the client’s mental state, and is able to tolerate and accommodate the complexities this might involve.
Remote therapy can create particular challenges for this – but also perhaps offer some advantages.
Returning to an evolutionary perspective, the initial challenge arises from the fact that we adapted the capacity to read these signals in small, face-to-face social groups.
Working remotely creates challenges but more than ever it should focus us on the value of thinking together and communicating thoughtfully.
The role of signals such as eye contact, responding to body language and contingent responsiveness – the back and forth quality of shared conversation – are liable to be distorted in online communication. The person you are talking to may cut out for a minute and the conversational flow may be disrupted by time-lags and audio difficulties.
However, some individuals, including those who may feel others are not benign or well-intentioned towards them, may find another person’s attention overwhelming. For them, the buffer of online remoteness may provide some space to assess cues at a safe distance. The remote practitioner needs perhaps to work that bit harder to think about the cues, and to show that they have understood.
What is a formulation?
A joint effort between you and your therapist to summarise your difficulties and provide possible explanations.
This normally includes going over previous areas of difficulty to understand more about them, as well as acknowledging sources of resilience.
An example of this is the formulation, common at the beginning of therapy. We argue that the reason a skilfully done formulation is so important is that it is a thoughtful and explicit demonstration of the therapist’s interest in the client’s state.
In remote therapy, formulation is perhaps even more important given that other cues may be harder to convey remotely.
The need to work remotely creates challenges but perhaps more than ever it should focus us on the value of thinking together, of communicating thoughtfully and attempting to recognise and acknowledge mental states in all their complexity. And of course this includes the practitioners who themselves need to be appreciated and recognised for their efforts to connect with their clients, under conditions of such uncertainty.
Post by Verity Sutcliffe, PsychUP for Wellbeing student (historic post from Spring 2020)
Reading time: ~ 5 mins
Ever wondered what UCL students were talking about when the pandemic first hit? Verity, a final year student at UCL, discusses the results of her thematic analysis of UCLove posts from the first two weeks of the pandemic. (We didn’t want to lose this blog, which was posted on our old site in Spring 2020.)
The COVID-19 outbreak has triggered changes in the way we communicate. With lockdown regulations enforcing we stay in our homes, online communication is playing an essential role in many people’s daily lives.
Focusing on the student population specifically, some are turning to online forums to express their anxieties about the pandemic. This can be seen as an efficient way to gain insight and support from fellow students. Sharing problems online can provide an opportunity for students to communicate how they are feeling to a responsive and sympathetic listener.
One student-run outlet for discussing such anxieties has been Facebook confession pages. Created by students, these pages have gained popularity at several universities, as they have facilitated mass-scale student-to-student communication – with UCL’s UCLove amassing over 23,000 followers and 17,000 likes in the three years it has been operating.
We can all sometimes focus on specific concerns when there are deeper feelings underlying these
These pages began with a sort of ‘hive mind’ framework, where students can submit confessions and queries, to which other students can collectively respond to. With posts anonymous, yet public for followers to interact with, students from every demographic (i.e. students from all sectors of the university, and potentially other universities also) can offer advice and sympathy to their peers.
Recently, over 10% of posts have touched upon anxieties related to COVID-19: a potential source of insight into how students are feeling during this time, and how these feelings may change as the situation evolves.
As a final-year UCL student, I started my undergraduate degree around the same time UCLove was created, so I have followed its progression into the successful platform it is today. Therefore, I am interested in how it is currently being used by students to express their worries and concerns.
I extracted posts on the UCLove page during the two weeks straddling the day a pandemic was declared by WHO (4-18 March), and thematically analysed them (see text box for how).
During this fortnight, COVID-19-related posts quadrupled. I identified six main themes in the posts which outline the explicit content of the anxieties that were raised (e.g. travel). However, there are also potential latent meanings that can be explored (e.g. a feeling of powerlessness).
This distinction between literal and interpretive analysis is important: we can all sometimes focus on specific concerns when there are deeper feelings underlying these, which we may not even be aware of.
If we are going to understand the impact of COVID-19 on people, this distinction could also be relevant for seeing how people’s concerns change. We might expect at least some explicit concerns to change as the situation does, but some of the deeper concerns might be more intractable.
For example, one theme draws upon the decisions being made by UCL regarding the academic year. One student writes, ‘Anyone else really nervous about online exams?? I find it so much harder to concentrate at home compared to in an actual exam hall, and I hate doing my exams from a screen rather than paper’.
This references an explicit concern towards the choice to move assessments to online platforms. It may also reflect an implicit fear about how changes to assessment affects the student’s grades, which will impact on their future.
The six explicit themes identified from the UCLove corpus data, with the % of posts that referenced each theme
Another identified theme is the anxiety towards daily-life changes. One student reports, “everything is changing for the way in which we lead our lives. It’s scary, difficult to concentrate…on work. There are so many unknowns…”.
This references nervousness towards the lifestyle adaptations that were being introduced around this time. These may include the UK-wide social distancing and self-isolating guidelines, as well as more university-specific regulations such as the closure of libraries and cancellations of face-to-face lectures.
This could imply the student is concerned about the unpredictability and longevity of the virus. These are new adjustments we have learned to adhere to, and the uncertainty of how long for may instil a sense of unease. This unease may manifest into latent anxieties that persist throughout the outbreak’s duration.
This preliminary look into UCLove and its content suggests that students benefit from the model that confession pages offer. Perhaps the relationship between the anonymous-poster and public-commenter gives it its unique appeal. The identifiableness of the commenters is what gives their responses a more genuine and sympathetic feel, while the anonymity of the original poster allows for the discussion of personal problems without compromising their identity.
Without such pages, there would be less of a cohesive safe space for students to come together to support one another. These confession pages are a useful tool for students to discuss their issues openly to an engaging and approachable audience – who offered responses such as “I agree 100%” and “so relatable…stay safe” to the previously mentioned posts, respectively.