I Can’t Handle It Alone: Psychological Help at HSE

Not all superheroes wear capes - who to seek help from, when it seems like no one can lend a hand?

I Can’t Handle It Alone: Psychological Help at HSE

Sometimes life gets tough. When the amount of lemons it gives you becomes unbearable, you can always turn to the Centre for Psychological Counselling at HSE. We talked to Irina Vilorievna Makarova, the director of this Center.

Irina Makarova

Director of Centre for Psychological Counselling

Is it possible for a foreign student, either who does not speak Russian at all or whose Russian is limited, to ask Centre for Psychological Counselling at HSE for help?

Surely, it is possible.

Does the staff of the Centre speak only English or they can offer help in different languages?

Unfortunately, now the staff of the Centre speaks only English. It is clear that there are many students from all around the globe studying at HSE now, who do not speak Russian or English, but it is the only option available so far. Perhaps, as the number of students, who do not speak these languages, is going to grow, the system will improve, and the range of languages used for psychological counselling will be widened.

Is the process for applying to the Centre somehow different for foreign students? If yes, how?

Yes, it differs. Administrative and management staff does not communicate in English. That is why the process for applying to the Centre for a foreign student is reduced to several stages. A student submits an application in English via the site, and it goes directly to a psychologist. On the one hand, it indeed speeds up the process, since there is no so-called buffer and everything is supervised directly by a psychologist. On the other hand, in some cases the lack of interaction with administrative and management staff may be rather inconvenient.

How frequently do foreign students ask for psychological help?

Quite often. The figures are as follows: throughout the academic year of 2018-2019 we had about 2180 (40-45 foreign students) students came to us asking for help. The number of foreigners does not seem huge, but given the fact that working with foreign students may be quite a challenge for the center’s specialists, the numbers are impressive.

There is information that a round-the-clock helpline has recently been opened in HSE. Have you already received any calls from foreign students?

This line works independently. Yes, in cooperation with the center, but still. Currently, since it has only just opened, there is no helpline in English yet. However, there is an English chat for international students. There are already some messages and by the end of this week, it is planned to undertake a broad analysis based on that. This will contribute to a better understanding of how to make things work from an organizational perspective.

What are the most common problems among foreign students, who require psychological help?

The problems are, of course, different. The main is probably adaptation. It is not as if foreign students do not expect difficulties. Quite the contrary – many of them have already had experience of studying abroad and are aware of certain challenges. Nevertheless, some things still turn out to be a shock for them. And this is when they address us for help.

Do only Russian-speaking specialists work in the Center?

Yes, so far only Russian-speaking specialists work in the Center. However, consultations with foreign colleagues from the Department of Psychology are being held on a continuous basis. They are not involved in psychological counselling itself, but specialists of the Center often turn to them for advice and supervision. Sometimes there is a terminological barrier, which can be overcome only by consulting with foreign specialists. Moreover, one should not underestimate the importance of sharing experiences.

In your opinion, could it be possible that differences in mentality and culture would become an obstacle to the psychological assistance to a foreign student?

Yes, sometimes there are indeed some social and cultural barriers. This is very noticeable in relation to the students from Asia. We really want to understand them, but sometimes it gets rather difficult for us.

Sometimes these barriers appear at the very early stage. Until recently, only female specialists worked in the Center and that turned out to be a serious impediment in cases of working with students from Muslim countries. Due to some religious and social aspects, the students are not ready to share their problems with female psychologists. “That’s not the way we do things in our country,” they declared quite openly.

Specialists at the Center are well aware of this and they do their best to find the most suitable approach for each student.

Cultural differences are no reason to refuse psychological help. The main goal for a psychologist is to help a student, no matter where they come from.

If you feel like you need psychological help, do not hesitate to contact the Center. There is nothing more important than health, especially the mental one!

Text by
Valeria Lizunova