Guildhall's Counselling Service
At Guildhall, we know that excellent mental health support is vital to delivering a rounded performing arts training and equipping our students for life as performers and creators. University is often a time of mental precarity: according to a 2021 Unite Students’ Insight Report, students scored a worrying 15-22% lower than the general UK population on wellbeing measures including life satisfaction, happiness and managing anxieties.
Central to this is our counselling service, managed by our Student Affairs team. Students can self-refer to the service at any time, with any issue. Our counsellors also facilitate group sessions, helping students share their experiences with and learn from others. With approximately 30% of the student body requesting an initial assessment, demand for the service far outstrips its current capacity. To manage demand and reduce waiting times, our previous offer of unlimited counselling sessions has been cut to ten sessions, except when supporting students in crisis. While this decision has enabled us to tackle large waiting lists in the short term, we must rebuild our provision to ensure that all students receive the help they need.
Alice Bulman is part of the counselling team offering vital support to our students. We spoke to Alice about the importance of the counselling service and the challenges facing the service and our students.
Why do we need a counselling service?
Our students spend a lot of time on their challenging academic studies, but they also have emotional and personal lives. For young adults, which many of our students are, there is often a lot going on. They are adapting from home to university, becoming independent and working out who they are. If we can address any issues they may face as they transition into life at Guildhall, it not only helps with retention but also helps them feel settled enough to make the most of their studies.
What are the key issues which Guildhall students are seeking help with?
As a conservatoire, demand for our counselling service is higher than at a traditional university, likely because of the additional pressures faced by our students and the high level of emotional investment they have in their training. They experience the usual issues people often go to counselling for, such as bereavement, anxiety or depression. However, students also come to us with concerns about their chosen profession, such as their future as an artist, lack of job security, financial worries or performance anxiety. We also have a large international student community, who may experience problems including homesickness and anxieties about fitting into a new culture.
The pandemic caused huge problems – isolation, uncertainty, loss – for everyone, but particularly for those in the arts. It altered the industry and magnified the insecurities of the profession, so naturally it was a concerning time for students who were unsure what their prospects would be after completing their courses. For many, these anxieties have continued even though we are no longer dealing with the pandemic in the same way. How everything shut down overnight was scary: if it can happen once, it can happen again. The world has changed, and this is particularly acute in the arts.
What are the challenges facing the counselling service?
Increased waiting times due to high demand are a key challenge. We see the best results when we can intervene early. For example, with a very homesick international student, if they see us at the start of the problem then we can talk about it and they can give their feelings meaning and context. They often then thrive in their studies.
However, if they wait for their feelings of isolation to become really embedded, they may struggle academically and could even decide to abandon their studies and go home. Early responses prevent situations where students drop out or cannot perform at their best, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to act in this way. Students are also coming to us with deeper problems than has previously been the case. The more severe an issue, the less time we can afford to lose, so it is vital we are better equipped to reduce our waiting list.
The reduction in services outside of Guildhall has increased the pressure on us. We used to be able to refer students for further support from, for example, their hometown NHS counselling service. However, economic factors and the pandemic have led to a serious shortfall in NHS mental health provision, meaning that more students have to stay under our care. This has significantly increased the strain on our service: January 2022 saw a 21% rise in demand compared with the previous year.
Limits to the number of sessions we can offer students have been tricky. We used to offer students as much counselling as felt right for them. We really believe that part of developing as a performer is self-development. An ability to support yourself through the ups and downs of your career is vital, as is a capacity to draw on your emotional world in pursuit of your art without being overwhelmed by these emotions.
If counselling can support someone with this capacity, it can offer a priceless gift as they embark on their careers. Now, as demand continues to increase (which is in part good, as people recognise how helpful the self-reflection promoted by counselling is) pressure on resources means that our interventions are generally briefer and more restricted. We have to focus on addressing specific clinical issues like depression or bereavement, rather than giving students the space to develop themselves, their art and how these relate to each other more fully. More open-ended work, except for students of particularly high levels of concern, is sadly becoming a thing of the past.
Pressures on our students are constantly increasing, with an ongoing cost-of-living crisis and a recession on the horizon. We are committed to providing a stable, dependable, well-resourced counselling service so that we can support them, not only through mental health crises, but also in their development as learners, as emerging adults and as artists. With your help, we can enhance our provision even further and ensure we can continue to support students as quickly as possible.
To make a donation towards our counselling service, please use the link below. Gifts of any size will bolster our welfare provision and make a real difference to our students. Thank you.
Alternative Donation Methods
You can also donate by sending us a cheque made out to the ‘Guildhall School Trust’ to the below address, marked as 'Welfare Appeal':
Guildhall School of Music & Drama
If you would like to discuss the appeal in more detail or would like to donate via an alternative method, please get in touch with our Development team.
Mental Health Support
If you are affected by the issues raised in this appeal, please explore the resources below.
Samaritans: If you are emotionally distressed and need someone to talk to, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123. Their phone line is open 24/7.
Mind: A mental health charity who you can contact for urgent help and support.
Music Minds Matter: A free 24/7 helpline run by Help Musicians UK for everyone in the music industry. You can call them on 0808 802 8008.
BAPAM: Resources and support are available for a wide range of wellbeing issues affecting people working in the performing arts.