The Counselling Service may be contacted by parents who are aware that their child is struggling at university and are unsure how best to help them. It can be especially worrying when your child is not very communicative about their difficulties and / or appears resistant to getting help.
How to help and support
Developmentally, university represents an important transition between childhood and adulthood with young people expected, and expecting, to take far more responsibility for all aspects of their lives. Some embrace this challenge, others find it hard. The University of Oxford offers a strong support network which includes tutors, college welfare teams, peer supporters, chaplains, college nurses, doctors and the Counselling Service.
If your child is having a particularly hard time the most natural thing to do is to encourage them to come home where you can look after them, but we suggest you think carefully about when it is really in their interest to return home. In the face of problems, the desire to regress can be very powerful.
Being able to phone or go home can be a really important way of gaining some perspective or simply taking some time out. But, developmentally, one of the most important ways in which you can support your child is to encourage them to remain at the University and to make use of the help available to them here.
You may be able to help by reminding them of the support available and helping them to see getting help as a positive step. But be careful not to push too hard. Counselling (or other help) will be more effective if the student has chosen it for themselves.
If you have concerns, you may wish to alert a member of the welfare team in your child’s college. The person with whom you speak is unlikely to be able to give you any specific information because University staff are bound by a code of confidentiality which means that under all normal circumstances no information given in confidence can be divulged to a third party - even a parent - without the student’s express permission. Nevertheless, getting in touch may provide an opportunity for you to talk through your concerns and gain more information about the support available.
Sometimes parents contact the Counselling Service to ask if their son or daughter has requested help. The Counselling Service needs to respect students’ confidentiality and would not be able to provide this information without their express permission. If a student is receiving counselling for emotional problems they have not disclosed to their parents, the Service will explore with them the reasons for this and encourage them to consider whether this is the right decision for them in their particular circumstances. Equally, if you know that your child is attending counselling and you have information that you feel we should have, you should be aware that it is only possible for us to use this kind of information as part of the counselling process if the student is aware that a conversation has taken place between the service and you.