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Referring to the UCS

Information for Tutors and others with pastoral responsibility


This leaflet attempts to answer the most common questions about the work of the University Counselling Service, with the particular needs of College Tutors and others with a welfare role in mind.

What is the role of the UCS?

Students make many personal decisions and solve many problems through discussions with friends or family, a College Tutor or Director of Studies, a Nurse, GP or Chaplain. However, there are times when it is right to seek confidential and professional help in an environment which is both separate from those mentioned above, and yet where student life and the University are understood: the Counselling Service was set up in 1969 to meet such a need.

We are interested in supporting the whole person, in order that he or she will be better able to make the most of the academic, social and leisure opportunities that Cambridge University affords.

Who can be seen at the UCS?

All undergraduate and graduate students of Cambridge University may use the service, including students at the Theological Colleges and part-time students who are members of a College.

Can staff be seen?

Members of staff who have a University contract may use the Staff Counselling Service which is also located at 2-3 Bene't Place, Lensfield Road, Cambridge. College staff can be seen for a single consultation which may lead to referral into private counselling or therapy if so wished. Some support is also available from the Personnel Division.

What counselling approaches are available in the UCS?

All the staff of the UCS are qualified, experienced and accredited counsellors, psychotherapists or cognitive therapists. In addition to dealing with general counselling issues, our team have specialist expertise in areas such as work block, stress, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and abuse.

Is there a difference between counselling and psychotherapy?

This is a perennial question that occupies the minds of many theorists! At the UCS we take the view that there is much more similarity than difference between counselling and psychotherapy, and tend to use the words almost interchangeably. To the extent that there is a difference, it is connected with the length and depth of the therapy undertaken, but in this leaflet we use the term 'counselling' to include psychotherapy.

Individual counselling

The bulk of our work comprises individual counselling. The majority is short-term, but longer-term therapy is also available, particularly where a student's academic or personal well-being is at stake. Because of the wealth of experience within our team, we are usually able to offer the most appropriate form of therapy, or advise on appropriate referral when necessary.

Group counselling

An increasing amount of our counselling takes place in groups. We usually offer several on-going groups, some specifically for undergraduates, others for graduate students which run throughout the calendar year. Each term we offer several short-term focused groups, usually running over four or six weeks, on topics such as anxiety and stress management, assertiveness, relaxation training, examination anxiety and eating disorders.

How do I refer a student to the UCS?

Many students seeking counselling self-refer, but we are also happy to accept referrals from others. We recognise that those based in colleges and departments are often the 'first port of call', and it may well be that the first sign of personal distress is that a student's work is suffering. Consequently, tutors and others are often in a very good position to notice when a student is in need of help and suggest that they arrange a counselling appointment at the UCS via our website, particularly if the issues are outside their own areas of expertise. If a student is hesitant, giving more information about the Service, or offering to help by making the initial approach might make the difference - though we prefer a student to confirm any appointment made on their behalf.

What kinds of problems can the UCS help with?

Most personal, emotional and psychological problems can be helped through counselling - this includes anxiety, stress and depression, family and/or relationship difficulties, sexual problems or identity issues - though counselling may not suit every student. It can also include adjusting to a new culture, or dealing with dilemmas or difficult decisions, as well as more specific problems such as addictions or eating problems.

We deal with all levels of severity: there is little difference between the work we undertake and that offered through out-patient psychotherapy and psychology services in the NHS. Some of those who come to the UCS have serious levels of disturbance; some feel suicidal. Most have problems that are causing difficulty or distress in some area of their life, although many are coping well in other areas. However, we always prefer to see people early in the development of any problem and before matters have become very serious, so no-one should be put off coming because they feel they would be 'wasting our time'!

How long will someone have to wait to be seen?

Students can request to see a counsellor by completing a 'Pre-counselling form' on our secure website, giving us an indication of the support they want. This enables us to arrange counselling with an appropriate member of our team. We read these forms every working day.

Waiting times vary depending on the demand on the Service, but typically range from no wait to two or three weeks. We take the urgency of the situation into account in allocating spaces, but longer waits can occur if the student's availability is severely limited.

Can the UCS offer long-term support?

The majority of the support we offer is short-term or, indeed, very short-term. Over half the students we see have four counselling sessions or less. However, we can also offer longer-term therapy for students where this is appropriate.

Does the UCS provide an emergency service?

Not in the strict sense. The UCS is open during usual office hours, and some early evenings. In a true emergency, where a person needs help immediately it is more appropriate to contact a doctor, the emergency services or the A & E Department at Addenbrooke's. In these circumstances counselling is not going to be the first support needed, though it may well be appropriate later.

However, the service is aware that some students need to be seen very quickly and we do our best to accommodate such urgent cases. If you are aware that a particular student needs a very quick response, it helps for you to let us know this - sometimes those who are most vulnerable do not always say so themselves.

Mental Health Advisors

[N.B. The Mental Health Advisor posts are both vacant at present. Recruitment is currently underway to fill these posts as soon as possible.]

The Counselling Service has two Mental Health Advisors who offer a range of interventions to students who are in crisis or who are experiencing moderate to severe mental health difficulties. This includes:

  • Mental health assessments including suicide risk assessment
  • Ongoing support for students
  • Liaison with tutors and academic departments
  • Liaison with GPs and Mental Health Services
  • Advice to College and University staff about student mental health problems
  • Fitness to Study assessments and Fitness to Return to Study assessments
  • Support assessments for students returning from intermitting
  • Supporting evidence for the Applications Committee

MHA’s Confidentiality Policy

At the first appointment a student will be asked for their written consent for information to be shared on a ‘need to know’ basis.  If a student chooses not to give their consent the MHA’s support will be limited.  Confidentiality may be breached without consent when there are serious grounds for concern about a student’s health or safety or the well being of others.

Contacting the MHA’s

If you are a member of College or University staff and you wish to refer a student for MHA support, or you would like to discuss a student mental health issue, please contact 

Emily Farrar MHA who can be contacted by email:
and Jane Gaffa MHA who can be contacted by email:

All phone calls for the MHAs need to go through reception on: 01223 332865

Students cannot refer themselves to the MHA’s.

The MHA’s don’t normally see students who are already attending counselling at the UCS. Exceptions can be made if there is a request from a College for a (stage 2) Fitness to Study Assessment.

For further information please see the page on the Mental Health Advisors.

Is the UCS a route to a psychiatric assessment?

A psychiatrist visits the Service each week, and we can arrange meetings for students whose mental health we are concerned about, though this is not part of the normal NHS provision. Routine referrals for psychiatric assessment should be arranged via a student's GP; urgent psychiatric assessments should certainly be arranged by their GP or through the A & E Department at Addenbrooke's. The UCS cannot provide an emergency route to psychiatric referral.

What are the boundaries between tutoring and counselling?

Cambridge is justifiably proud of the many sources of support that are open to students. It is appropriate that there are overlaps in this network of support, and this is almost certainly going to be the case in the roles of tutor and counsellor. The point where referrals are made will depend on an individual's personal skills, interest and available time.

Does confidentiality preclude liaison between tutor and counsellor?

Yes and no! We know that counselling only works in the context of assured confidentiality; we are also bound by professional Codes of Ethics to maintain confidentiality except in the rare circumstances where a client is a risk to him- or herself, or to someone else.

However, in our experience students often realise that it is helpful to liaise with their tutor or director of studies over matters that they are talking about in counselling. We regularly suggest that students speak to the relevant people in their college or department, and also often ask whether it would be helpful to make such a contact ourselves. Many students agree, and consequently we are frequently in touch with academics and tutors. With the student's consent we can discuss measures which might be helpful and supportive to the student without necessarily revealing more specific and confidential information.

Can I phone up for advice about a student?

Yes. We are quite happy to talk with you about the support of a student within the college or department environment. Counsellors in the UCS are allocated as 'liaison counsellors' to each College for just such a purpose. However, because our staff spend most of their time counselling, we would usually need to phone you back within a short time.

Other support available to colleges

Liaison Counsellor

A member of the counselling team is allocated to each college as a 'liaison counsellor'. This does not mean that this counsellor will necessarily see the students from that college, but implies a linking and liaison function. If you are not sure which member of our team is allocated to your college, please contact the Service. If you would find it helpful to meet with the Head of Service or your liaison counsellor, we would be happy to respond to such a request.

Similarly, we are happy to meet with tutors or other staff groups to talk about the role of the service, or about the management of any issues in college where our areas of expertise may be relevant.


The service is one of the possible referral points for students who are being harassed.

Work with student groups

Counsellors are willing to contribute to or lead workshops for student groups within college, perhaps arranged by the JCR or MCR, particularly if these may help to prevent problems arising later.

UCS Leaflets

We have written a series of leaflets for students on common problems, each containing a brief description of the problem area followed by some self-help strategies. They also give guidance about when it may make sense to seek further help, with some suggestions of where this might be found. These leaflets are available to colleges or departments at a cost which covers printing, or via the UCS website.

We also have a leaflet available specifically for tutors and others with welfare responsibility entitled 'Responding to the risk of Suicide'. Copies of this have been distributed to colleges and can also be viewed here.

Annual Reports

Annual reports on the work of the UCS are distributed to colleges and contain (anonymous) details of the numbers of students seen, the presenting problems and the trends in our work. Electronic copies of our Annual Reports can be found here

Further information about the UCS

The UCS website ( contains general information about the service, and also includes copies of all our leaflets for students, as well as links to other counselling-related agencies in the Cambridge area.

We hope that this leaflet will help you to make the best use of our service. Please feel free to contact us if you have any other questions.