What is counselling?

Counselling is about talking to someone who understands what depression is and what can help.Counsellors are professionally trained to work with people on their personal and emotional issues, including depression and suicide.  

What to expect from counselling

Most universities and many colleges have a counselling service which is free for students to use.

Counselling offers an opportunity to talk confidentially to someone impartial, so you are free to explore your true feelings and be supported without judgement. Because everyone is different, a counsellor does not simply dish out advice – the discussions in counselling are aimed at helping you understand what is going on for you and what would help you best.

When you phone or email for an appointment you may be asked to give your weekly availability so that you can be offered an appropriate appointment time. You may be asked to fill in a short questionnaire or registration form to give your contact details and a bit of information about what issues you want to discuss. This information will always be treated confidentially.

In the first session you will usually:

  • have an opportunity to ask questions about what is offered,
  • be expected to outline what has brought you to counselling and what you hope to gain,
  • agree a series of meetings, usually weekly, to discuss and work through the depression.

What you say will be kept confidential to the counselling service and will not be discussed with anyone else in your university/college (except under certain exceptional circumstances which will be explained in advance).

Different kinds of counselling

Counsellors do not all work in exactly the same way, and not everyone ‘clicks’ with the first counsellor they see. Counsellors welcome questions about how they work, and are open to discussing whether they are the right person to help. It is important that you feel comfortable with the counsellor you see, so don’t settle for the first one if you’re not entirely happy with them. See ‘How does counselling help?’ for more on what to expect and the different kinds of counselling.

What else do counsellors offer?

  • Liaison with doctors
    Counsellors often work closely with university health centres and may be able to help you find a doctor who has an interest in working with depression. Some counsellors work in GP surgeries and offer counselling on referral from the doctor.
  • Referrals
    Some counselling services offer referrals for alternative therapies, like massage or exercise classes.
  • E-mail counselling
    Some university or college counselling services offer counselling via email as well as face-to-face sessions (see ‘Online help’).
  • Groups or workshops
    Some counselling services offer therapy or support groups, sometimes focusing specifically on depression. They may also offer one-off workshops with tips for things like stress management or procrastination.
  • Further info
    Most services have websites and leaflets describing what they offer and offering advice about common problems, including depression.

Get local contact details

Find the details for your own campus counselling service on our ‘Get local help’ page.

Next: How does counselling help?

Take Action

Appointment preparation


Online help
Increasing exercise
Uni/college support