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  • General Student Advisory Service

    Psychological Counselling

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Psychological Counselling

Many new challenges come with studying. You may be here to pursue the topics which interest you the most, or possibly you may feel that you had to compromise on your choice of subject. You will be meeting a lot of new people and find yourself in a completely new (learning) environment. You may have moved out of your parents' home, perhaps even had to move to a new city. Somehow, the need or desire to stand on your own two feet becomes more urgent.

It can be fun to rise to these challenges. However, it can also be overwhelming if too many demands and requirements are made of you at one time. This can sometimes lead to problems during your studies. These often manifest themselves in difficulties with learning, examination anxiety or sometimes in severe psychological crises. But pre-existing psychological problems can also affect a student’s ability to study. At ZSB, our team of counsellors offer support to students and doctoral candidates to help them cope with personal problems or crises. This support can take the form of individual, couple or group counselling sessions. In addition, members of teaching staff who wish to provide support to students experiencing stress can also contact us for advice.


Counselling in English on demand. You are welcome.

Consulta en castellano a demanda. Aguardamos Su solicitud.

Ethical guidelines

In many respects, trust is integral to our counselling service at the ZSB: our counsellors are highly trained and work to a professional code. It is vital that you feel able to trust your counsellor - after all, you will share very personal experiences and thoughts with him or her. And evidence shows us that trust between a client and counsellor is of paramount importance in the therapy environment.

  • We are committed to protecting client confidentiality and privacy. Information will not be passed on to third parties or only at your request. There is one exception: if we have reason to believe that you or someone else is in serious danger we will contact the emergency services for assistance.
  • Any notes or records are kept securely.
  • Qualification of the counsellor,
  • Supervision and further training of the counsellor,
  • Possibilities of alternative or complementary services,
  • We will inform you of the general conditions of the counselling sessions (e.g. regularity and frequency of the appointments, as well as procedures in case of staff substitution.
  • We will inform you about the possible duration of the counselling sessions or discuss it with you.

The ethical codes that guide our practice stipulate that personal relationships and contact between client and counsellor are not allowed outside of the counselling sessions. This is to ensure that the counsellor does not abuse the special relationship established within the therapy environment under any circumstances.

Responsibility for compliance with ethical guidelines rests solely with the counsellor.

Sexual assaults and sexualised violence (power) are part of the reality of life, especially for women, but also for men, though statistically much less so. However, these kinds of experiences have negative consequences for all those affected.

Sexual violence and sexual assault can also occur within the therapy and counselling environment. Due to the special character of the counselling/therapeutic relationship, sexual assaults have a particularly devastating effect. Because:

People go to therapy and counselling because they wish to work through problems and address mental health issues within the protective environment of a supportive therapeutic relationship. This creates (in the ideal case) a relationship of dependence that can be thematised and reduced over the course of the counselling/ therapy sessions. If the person in the position of strength uses their status for their own (sexual) needs, then they abuse the dependent position of the other person in need of protection and hinder their growth and their ability to cope with the problems affecting their health. It is irrelevant whether the client more or less signals their interest to the counsellor in the therapy situation. Professional therapists must be able to set boundaries and deal with these situations in a respectful way.

How can women and men deal with the risk of sexual violence that also exists in therapeutic relationships? Avoiding therapy and counselling is not a good solution. To ignore the risk and hope things turn out well, however, may be unfavourable.

We advise you to take a cautious approach to counselling and therapy - whether with a man or a woman. We advise you to respect your own gut feelings and to seek support if the therapeutic relationship starts to become ‘uneasy’. Below you will find some advice that can serve as orientation:

  • Rely on your gut feeling when deciding on a counsellor/ therapist. If in initial discussions with a counsellor they appear to you as threatening, insist on having the upper hand or do not seem to be able to respond to your fears and insecurities, then this will not be a good start for working together.
  • Pushing boundaries is part of personal growth. However, there are certain boundaries that must be maintained in our dealings with others. Decide for yourself, what the issue is at hand, and do not let others undermine you.
  • In every counselling/therapy, there will be phases of doubt where you may question if you are really in good hands, understood correctly or if the counsellor is just feigning interest. It must also be possible to address such irritations within the therapy.
  • If you are not sure whether your therapy/counselling is helping you or wonder if it is actually making you feel worse, talk to your therapist. If talking about it doesn't improve things, talk to another person who has expertise in therapy.
  • Sexual acts in a therapeutic situation are always sexual assaults - even if they are framed as being part of the therapeutic solution. And: You determine what is to be considered a sexual act. Insist that your therapist respects your definition.
  • Even if the therapy/counselling has come to an end, if your counsellor attempts to make sexual contact with you this is still a violation of boundaries.
  • If you experience sexual violence during counselling/therapy, stop the therapy immediately and get support: from a person you trust (private or professional), from a women’s emergency helpline (Notruf für Frauen), the Wildwasser (working group combatting sexual violence against women and girls), at a psychological advisory centre or at other institutions offering support.

Registration and general conditions

The psychological counselling service is free of charge and confidential, as all employees of the counselling centre are bound to a confidentiality policy. If you wish, you can remain anonymous during the counselling sessions, with no need to tell us your name or subject area. As a rule, appointments are made in person during our open consultation hours, which take place daily and do not require advance registration.

Please take a seat on the red sofa in the waiting area. An advisor will invite you to the consultation room as soon as possible. In a one-on-one conversation you can say that you would like psychological counselling, or ask about the counselling in general.

Counselling process

In the counselling session, you can tell us what is causing you concern or worry. You decide which topics you wish to talk about and what you wish to discuss or not discuss with the counsellor.

If we are not able to solve your problem immediately during the session, another appointment can be arranged as soon as possible. These appointments usually last between 45-50 minutes. A few appointments are often enough to understand your situation better, to deal with the problems at hand and to find new scope for action.

You can cancel the consultation at any time or ask for another counsellor. If it turns out that we do not have the right kind of counselling service for you, or if out-patient psychotherapy seems to make more sense, we will be happy to support you in your search for a suitable therapy place or refer you to other counselling or therapy facilities or self-help groups.

Who can use our services and what do we offer?

Generally speaking, anyone who is involved in studying or higher education can come to us, no matter what the topic or problem.

Typical themes include:

  • Difficulties with working and exam anxiety throughout the course of studies
  • Increased pressures of doctoral study
  • Conflicts in making decisions
  • Social difficulties
  • Difficulties in the final stage of studies
  • Feelings of burnout or psychosomatic complaints
  • Upheaval in life plans
  • Dissatisfaction with present personal circumstances
  • Insecurity in relationships
  • Doubts about life and study plans

Even if we are not the right contact person for you, we can direct you to support services available at the University as well as in Bielefeld and in the region which might be best suited to you. In this way you will receive targeted support which, in acute life crises, can offer initial relief and help prevent more serious repercussions or further entrenchment of issues.

Example from psychological counselling

K. comes to the counselling and introduces herself as a student in the fifth semester of her Bachelor studies. She doesn’t even know if the ZSB (Student Counselling Service) is the right place for her. In fact, she should be feeling happy, as she just passed an important exam. However, she wasn’t really able to enjoy her success and is somehow no longer content, though she is not sure why. For some reason, she is experiencing a ‘crisis of the mind’. She hasn’t slept well for several weeks now and feels particularly bad in the mornings. When well-meaning friends ask after her, she reacts with irritation and dismissal. She doesn’t understand her reaction at all, which annoys her as well. She actually wanted to visit the ZSB two weeks ago, but for some reason she felt it was strange to go to the open consultation hours and so she only plucked up the courage today.


The student finds the atmosphere of our initial session helpful, and first gets ‘everything off her chest’, as she will later report. Over the next six weeks, the student has four further sessions with the counsellor, during the course of which several reasons are identified for her ‘crisis of the mind’. She herself sums up the most important reason why she is dissatisfied: ‘I am only satisfied with the best and because I feel I can still do a little better, I am never really satisfied with myself!’


In the end, the student gains more clarity and confidence emotionally.  She decides to do two fewer courses in the current semester and to use the time she has gained for something ‘nice and relaxing’. In addition, the student postpones a planned semester abroad until she feels ‘really stable again’.

Student M. comes to the session saying that he would like to have couple counselling. He has been having big arguments with his girlfriend. The memories of his parents’ marriage crisis and later separation are still vivid in his mind. At the time, he escaped for hours playing role-playing games online, and realises that he is now reacting in the same way he did then. He is really worried that he could jeopardise the success of the Master’s studies he has just begun. He no longer wants to spend days on end feeling numb and empty with his ‘digital solution’. When younger, he had therapy with a child and youth psychotherapist and had been doing well for the last seven years. 


The student would like to use the first session specifically to ‘reactivate better solutions’ which had already been developed in the previous therapy. As a first step, he decides to do sport regularly again and to spend more time doing things with his two best friends. In the second session, the student pulls a WLAN router out of his shoulder bag with a broad grin. For the time being, he does not want to go online from home any more.


After two more individual counselling sessions, several couple counselling sessions take place. The focus of these sessions is to analyse the typical conflict situation for the couple. Together with the counsellor, several rules are developed for these recurring instances of conflict: In the first session, the couple agree to the rule ‘Do not interpret’, an idea which spontaneously arose out of the discussion. Over the course of the next few weeks, Student M. and his girlfriend begin to find new rules to manage their conflicts outside the sessions and report that their conflicts now progress in a more constructive way. Towards the end of the course of counselling, the counsellor holds two further individual sessions. The student reports in these sessions that he feels much more confident and alive.  As a parting shot, he says he wishes to be reunited with his WLAN- router.

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