I'm not alien to the myriad of tales surrounding the unspeakable horrors, the tears and the dismissals faced when students enter the dreaded rooms of academic counselling. While it may seem that Western University has a serious problem, I happen to think otherwise.
The stories I’ve heard simply don’t line up with what I have experienced. I’ve been to academic counselling in science, social science and BMOS, and not every experience and every counsellor has been perfect. Overall, though, I don’t think academic counselling is that bad.
Let me explain.
There are three major issues students have with academic counselling: disregard for mental health issues, inability to help those in smaller programs and notoriously long wait times.
Every few months I stumble across a Facebook post about an insensitive academic counsellor. While I can sympathize, I think students — myself included — tend to go to academic counselling with unrealistic expectations.
We expect counsellors to be able to alleviate our stress and accommodate our personal experiences solely based on what we tell them.
To be blunt, they're not paid to counsel someone’s emotions, soothe tears or give a student leeway for an issue they have no authority nor any training to diagnose, assess or treat.
They are not doctors. The only thing in their power is to provide possible solutions. For example, they'll tell you to try talking to your professor for understanding or provide other resources, like Student Health Services, that would allow them to accommodate requests.
There is a process in place and counsellors have a responsibility to follow it.
If you’re physically sick, you get a note. If you’re experiencing mental health issues, you also get a note. And I know this is so much easier said than done, and the system is potentially flawed, but it is unjust to shift that blame to the people enforcing it rather than the people who created it.
Besides a lack of empathy, students also complain about the lack of program-specific knowledge.
I’ve always been in a popular program, and have had no trouble getting information about my courses. However, I have friends in programs like international relations and linguistics that consistently find academic counsellors are just as confused as they are.
Social science, for instance, offers 16 programs with multiple modules. Usually academic counselling will be able to answer basic questions: what courses you need to graduate, if you’ve managed your pre-requisites or if you’re eligible for a course overload. But, expecting an academic counsellor to be fluent in every module is a bit much to ask, especially when your questions are niche and rarely asked.
Counselling may not even be the right place to visit when looking for particulars about your program.
There are undergraduate department advisors that can flush out the specifics of your modules far more extensively than academic counselling will. Being unaware of these services, people put misguided expectations on academic counsellors, deeming them “useless” when again, the information is simply outside their scope of knowledge.
And finally we have wait times.
Personally, I think this claim is bogus. The only time we hear of it is during exam season and it is inevitable and completely understandable that wait times will increase as the number of collective deadlines increase.
Visit a week earlier and you’ll be in and out within a couple of hours maximum, or better yet send an email and they should respond within 24 hours.
Ultimately, I know academic counselling isn’t perfect and I know people have had bad experiences. But, if we take the time to shift our perspective and understand the limitations academic counselling faces we may realize that our academic counsellors are not the villains.