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21.02.2022 from 
Study + Teaching
A hammock for all your worries

Needs-based advice on an equal footing by students for students: that is the motto of the student initiative, “Hammock – Catch and Initiate”, that was founded in 2014. No matter whether the problem is with their studies, friendship group, family or relationship, the initiative, which is staffed by psychology students, is available at all times to students in need of advice!

Today, what used to be described as “the best time of your life”, namely your time at university, has increasingly become a sad and anxious time. During the coronavirus pandemic, the majority of classes could only take place online and campus life increasingly came to a standstill. Student life has changed. Sitting in front of your screen for what feels like 24 hours a day, watching online lectures and following meetings, hardly having any social contact, constantly experiencing last-minute changes within the study program and still remaining motivated, is not at all easy. More and more often things are becoming all too much for some and they no longer wish to continue. The “Hammock” is there for this kind of problem, among other things. The initiative is led by psychology students at the University of Magdeburg and gives all students the opportunity to make a counseling appointment free of charge, at the time it is needed and without needing to complete a lot of formalities. The “Hammock” sees itself among other things as a steppingstone to any professional help that may prove necessary.

“We want to support all those who come to us with problems or at a difficult stage in their lives, pick them up where they are currently and initiate change together.” Alexander Masannek, a Master’s student on the program in Psychology with a focus on Cognitive Neuroscience  goes on to explain that “for us it is not about providing professional expertise but instead giving the students the opportunity to talk with other students about the things that make a difference to them.” The 23-year-old Berliner has been working as a counselor on the team since October 2020 and is also responsible for the initiative's finances and postbox.

The things that we associate with a normal hammock, things like relaxation, a sense of wellbeing, freedom for worry - perhaps a “holiday from our worries” - are what the team aims to convey. Because the counselors are still students themselves, they have a different understanding of the problems with which the students turn to the “Hammock”. They can more easily put themselves in the position of their fellow students and have a better idea of what it means to be a student today: “Simply, we approach one another on a different level and perhaps more at eye level, than might be the case in situations between student and psychotherapist. From this point of view, there is no threshold that has to be got over in order to contact us. All that is required is perhaps a little effort and self-knowledge,” he says. Anyone wishing to make a counseling appointment simply has to send an email to To quickly contact someone in the team who has a good understanding of the issue and fits the client best, it is worth providing a brief description of the issue to be discussed during the appointment.

The basis of the “Hammock” program is a counseling psychology seminar by Dr. Jeanne Rademacher from the Institute of Psychology at the University of Magdeburg, who also acts as supervisor for the team of counselors. And though the seminar is based on systemic psychotherapy principles, the counselors are free to use other therapeutic approaches too. Alexander Masannek, for example, bases his advice on the principle of “helping people to help themselves”. “In the first session it is about clarifying as fully as possible what the counseling will need to cover and what specific help is required,” explains the psychology student. Typical questions here include: “What needs to happen during the counseling to be able to say that it has helped in the end?” or “What do we jointly want to concentrate on in the counseling process?” Afterwards a plan is devised together to achieve the counseling objective. The participants then work from session to session with the help of various small assignments. These generally take place every 14 days and last approximately 60 minutes.

The “Hammock” has also had to cope with different challenges during the pandemic. Since it is almost impossible to adhere to current hygiene rules in the initiative’s consultation room, the sessions are currently mostly held via a secure online platform. Theoretically, it would be possible to hold a consultation in person with distancing and a mask, however, currently there is a large hurdle, which Alexander Masannek describes thus: “Recognizing and interpreting the facial expressions of one’s counterpart is an elementary part of every therapeutic interaction and unfortunately that is not possible when wearing masks.”

Even if digital interaction cannot be compared with a face-to-face discussion, many counseling appointments are still being offered. Moreover, the initiative would like to attract greater attention to itself, since: “The psychological stresses and problems have definitely increased in comparison with the time before the coronavirus. We have also noticed that the problems of general, everyday life and the restructuring of study programs are connected to the coronavirus pandemic,” says the psychology student.

Currently the students are working on strengthening their presence in the social networks and “brightening up” the consultation room. Alongside financial support from the Faculty Council of the Faculty of Natural Sciences and the Student Council, the Hammock team hopes to hold a bake sale at the beginning of the summer semester so that they can conduct more publicity campaigns with the proceeds and make the consulting room more comfortable.

And finally, Alexander Masannek has a few more tips for students dealing with a lot of challenges: “Your problems should be recognized for what they are. You do not need to struggle on alone with them. Anyone who is ready to acknowledge their own problems and ask for help is strong - not the opposite.” The 23-year-old also recommends paying attention to your own wellbeing and listening to yourself. “Why not give Hammock a try - you have nothing to lose!” he concludes.