KCL’s Counselling Service are meant to help students, but they let me down

I was told I was a bully and a sociopath

University life is challenging: the workload is demanding, living away from home can be draining, so mental health is understandably a big issue.

In such circumstances we rely on support from professional services offered by King’s – however one fresher was less than impressed with his treatment by the KCL Counselling Service.

Speaking to The Tab, first year Theology student Andrew* told us about his disappointing experience at his counselling sessions.

Hi Andrew. What happened at your counselling sessions?

“I would say that over the period of a month and a half I went to about seven sessions. The general advice wasn’t practical – I was told “the only way you can get better is by helping yourself”. To some extent this is true but I felt like the counsellor was just quoting Facebook statuses rather than advising me. After my second appointment I was told to go to St. Thomas’ and the staff there seemed annoyed at the fact that the counsellors just sent students over.

“The worst appointment was towards the end of the semester. I hadn’t been self-harming that much – things felt manageable. The appointment felt very clinical. The counsellor asked for my name and what seemed to be the problem. The personal details I didn’t mind, but I was slightly offended by the fact that he seemed to not know why I was there, even though I’d seen him before this appointment.

“He then started to raise his voice – he said that self-harming made me arrogant, manipulative, a bully and a sociopath. According to him, I was making everyone around me feel negative because of what I was doing to my body and therefore I was manipulative. When I tried to defend myself he kept on saying ‘You’re wrong’. I was very emotional and in tears, but he carried on being confrontational.

“He later told me that if I continued to harm myself then he had the power to get me permanently removed from King’s.  I don’t know whether or not it was an idle threat, but I felt insecure afterwards. Later I was discharged and referred to ‘Community Mental Health Trust’.”

What effect did this have on you?

“I felt as if I was entirely guilty for what was happening to me – the counsellors made me feel like I was wasting their time. One of the counsellors asked me why I felt the way I did and why I self-harmed, when I gave him my explanation he said that I was deliberately evading the question. According to him my answer was ‘an evasive semantic response’ and he asked whether I was abused as a child.

“It made me question my narrative and also my feelings: I began to doubt myself. I began to feel an extreme sense of guilt and worthlessness after the session and I think it gave me ammunition to harm myself even more. So I turned to harsher methods of cutting – instead of a knife I used cheesewire. I only did that as a last resort when I felt using a knife was not numbing my pain.”

Any advice for students in a similar situation as yourself?

“I would firstly book an appointment with the GP, especially if you have physically harmed yourself because they can check for infections and prescribe you medicine.

“I would recommend visiting the chaplaincy, I have received a lot of support from them. You do not need to book an appointment or be subscribed to religion to see them, just go straight in and have a chat. I find with the chaplaincy that there is a better relationship formed and also more trust.”

When asked about Andrew’s ordeal, KCL Head of Counselling Stephanie Griffiths said: “We are very concerned to hear about these anonymous allegations and would encourage the student to contact me as Head of the Counselling Service as soon as possible so that we can investigate thoroughly.

“Our counsellors are highly trained and experienced professionals whose sole purpose is to support our students during their time at King’s.

“We aim to provide a high quality service in all cases and many students report having had a positive experience.”

If you or someone you knows suffers as a result of mental health, they can get help at Samaritans or 7 Cups of Tea.