More than 30 psychologists and counsellors from Student Support Services (SSS) from all four of UKZN Colleges attended a one-day workshop on the Westville campus on suicide prevention and trauma.

Dr Jacqui von Cziffra-Bergs of the Solution Focused Institute of South Africa delivered the day’s training which constituted an accredited Continuing Professional Development (CPD) course. Von Cziffra-Bergs’ presentation covered work done by herself and colleagues, including Dr John Henden, on solution-focused (brief) therapy (SFBT) with clients managing trauma and suicide prevention.

‘Suicide, depression and trauma are on the increase amongst students, and hopefully this will give us some very practical and concrete skills we can use immediately in dealing with these complicated, nuanced issues that we face,’ said Ms Shelley Barnsley, SSS Manager within the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES).

‘When we work with clients who are experiencing trauma and having to manage it, we need to help them find hope. If we start building relationships with people and not the trauma, we can help them move on,’ said Von Cziffra-Bergs.

Von Cziffra-Bergs explained that SFBT validates and acknowledges traumatic experiences, but also creates a new experience and highlights clients’ coping and strengths, ultimately seeding hope. She discussed how it aids in increasing compassion through building vicarious resistance, and indicated that the process increases clients’ trust in therapy and builds their resilience. SFBT, she explained, constitutes a brief and short-term approach, is goal-oriented and strategic. Solutions emerging from the therapy, she said, are collaborative and shared between the client and therapist. The brief nature and strengths-focused approach of SFBT, she said, makes it a good fit for dealing with most issues, but especially those in a university environment with the pressures faced by students. In this regard, SFBT’s goal-oriented nature helps students focus on what they want differently while focusing on progressing through their studies.

The attending psychologists expressed their hopes that the workshop would help them empower students with coping mechanisms and be able to effectively evaluate risk.

Barnsley thanked Ms Rossella Meusel, also a psychologist in CAES, for inviting the guest speaker and for organising the workshop, and the Directors of Professional Services in all four Colleges for co-ordinating sponsorship from the Colleges to make the event possible. She also thanked the three CAES SSS intern psychologists, Ms Sarah Miller, Ms Cebisa Nkatu and Ms Lovey Mnisi, for assisting Meusel in preparations for the workshop.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod