#17: Why Psychosocial Student Counseling is useful for more than just students
As unbelievable as it may sound, we have been living in a pandemic for two years now, with all that entails: homeschooling and home office, contact restrictions, online semesters, but also the increasing psychological strain. And of course, the other problems haven't suddenly disappeared: Stress and pressure at work, exams, arguments with family, friends or your partner - all this can get to you. Seeking help is just the right thing to do! For example, from the Psychosocial Student Counseling Service of the Studentenwerk. In the new issue of "In die Uni reingehört", the director Mareen Eisenblätter talks about her work, the services offered by the counseling center and why the PSB is not only useful for students but also for employees.
Mareen Eisenblätter has been the head of the Psychosocial Student Counseling Magdeburg, which is part of the Studentenwerk, since April 2020. Ms. Eisenblätter holds a degree in psychology and also studied at the University of Magdeburg. At the moment, she leads a team of three, with whom she provides one-on-one counseling to both staff and students. They also offer workshops and three self-help groups on various topics.
*the audio file is only available in German
The Podcast to Read
Intro voice: Listening to the podcast about the world of work at OVGU!
Lisa Baaske: It's hard to say, but we've been living in a pandemic for two years now, with contact restrictions, home office and homeschooling, online semesters and everything that goes with it - including the increasing psychological strain. And all the other problems have not diminished either: Stress and pressure at work, exam periods, arguments with family, friends or your partner, it can all get to you. But seeking help when you're stuck is exactly the right thing to do. And you can get it, for example, from the Psychosocial Student Counseling Service of the Student Union, which, even if the name suggests it, is not only there for students, but also for employees. The head of the counseling center, Mareen Eisenblätter, is our guest today and is sitting across from me. My name is Lisa Baaske, I'm a volunteer in the press office. And today we're going to talk about her work, what the PSB offers, and the challenges of her job. A warm welcome to you all!
Mareen Eisenblätter: Hello!
Lisa Baaske: Ms. Eisenblätter, the way to our studio was definitely not far, because you also work in building 18. But what exactly does the Psychosocial Student Counseling Service do?
Mareen Eisenblätter: We do a lot of consulting, primarily about 70/80%. That means individual settings. And on the other hand, we also offer a lot of courses and workshops, further training for employees and stress management courses. Our work is very, very colorful and varied, and we also have three self-help groups.
Lisa Baaske: Okay, you are a psychologist and studied here at the OVGU. What is it like to work so close to your former alma mater from this professional perspective?
Mareen Eisenblätter: Oh, quite wonderful, I missed it. You could say that when I came back. And I benefit from the fact that I got to know the structures quite well as a student and I'm also often happy to look in on familiar faces that are still there, which was a little while ago, and are also helpful systems in place.
Lisa Baaske: Does it help that you already have some contacts in the university?
Mareen Eisenblätter: Definitely, because it actually probably makes it easier to call and say, "I have a challenge, could I get some support?" from people who already know me from the past or have gotten to know me well. It's just easier if you know who you're calling.
Lisa Baaske: Yes, I definitely believe that. As I said at the beginning, even though you might think it from the name, they're not just for students. Who can get in touch with you?
Mareen Eisenblätter: So first and foremost, of course, all the students of our university Magdeburg-Stendal and the OVGU and also the Harz University of Applied Sciences. But for that we also actually have honorary people who support us. And then also all the people who we collaborate with and also those who are in between like doctoral students. That means: Those who are either employed or enrolled on one side, they can all turn to us.
Lisa Baaske: Okay, but then you also have a very broad crowd that you have to work with, so to speak.
Mareen Eisenblätter: Yes, definitely. But that's also what makes the whole job fun. And we counsel with heart and soul. We are happy about everyone who comes and about every concern, in fact.
Lisa Baaske: Yes, that is actually the second question, so the next question is. With which problems could I turn to you?
Mareen Eisenblätter: Oh, with everything, actually. There is no challenge that is too small or too big, or a topic that is too small or too big and cannot possibly be discussed. That means that on the one hand, of course, our students come with exam topics, with university organization, with theses, but also with heartbreak. And employees can also come with any topic, even if it's about being on the road in a team, perhaps having a few challenges there. But also if it's private challenges that you have to deal with. For example, how do you balance family and work and homeschooling and all that? That's when you're likely to come to us. So we don't say the topic has to be necessarily university-related, but the main thing is that it has a connection to the person who comes to us.
Lisa Baaske: I saw that you also have special office hours. How do you then actually advise and do they need to necessarily come to see you?
Mareen Eisenblätter: So not at all. Simply because at the moment, we all know that there is a pandemic. Personal office hours are on hold right now. You can reach us during office hours, by phone or the chat function via the student union website. Or you just write us an email and then you get namely a question, whether it's face to face? Where the person studies, where the person works, at which location, his/her time-commitment and whether he/she wants to talk in person or online. And we also offer telephone consulting. But very few people choose that, because it's a bit more charming to use video consulting. But we don't work with Zoom, we work with Medical and then you get a link, which is a secure data-protected software and you just click on it and then you can look at our faces or you say you want to be present. Then we have to look for a consulting room. And we are currently commuting between Building 18 and the Student Union, because we now also have a counseling room there in the Campus Theater because of the Corona Pandemic.
Lisa Baaske: In the theater - not bad either. But what I was wondering now: I have the feeling that my generation and the younger ones, isn't chatting somehow more popular when you feel you don't have to see the person, but can anonymously then talk about the problem?
Mareen Eisenblätter: We thought so too, but I think it's quite a challenge, as I know that,I only have one level of information, which is the text. And many students or employees are not yet able to specify their concerns. They know that something is coming up, but they first need an appointment with us to find out: "What would I actually like to work on with you in the consultation?
Lisa Baaske: Yes, I absolutely understand. Okay, interesting, I wouldn't have thought so. Give me an overview. So are there any special offers for employees or for students? Or are all offers simply there for everyone?
Mareen Eisenblätter: So the consultations are there for everyone, individually. You can also bring someone with you, so we would also advise several people together. Then the courses that are on our homepage from the Studentenwerk are primarily for students. But we also offer special courses through the health management for employees, such as "Loving boundaries", "Stress management", "Communication with challenging people in emotional states of emergency" was also very popular and we work very closely with the health management that they tell us what they want. But we would also, for example, if staff members say, "We could really use this in our faculty, can you offer us a little course sometime?" Then we also come to you as well. That's not a problem at all.
Lisa Baaske: And you also said there are three support groups. On what topics then?
Mareen Eisenblätter: One is a discussion group called "International Circle". Our English offer is simply a discussion group, a culture shock, arriving in Magdeburg, perhaps having little contact with others, and being a bit depressed. That's what it's all about. That's what Ms. Nossack does. Then, for 20 years, we took over a self-help group for "students with challenges", which is affectionately called "the Wednesday group", led by Mr. Smudo. This is for students who already have a lot of experience in the mental health sector, i.e. with counseling, therapies and so on, who meet. And the new group that we are about to found will be a group on the topic of "transgender". It will also be bilingual, in German and English. That means we're trying to speak a little bit of Denglish. We would like to... We plan to hold it once a month for those who are directly affected and who want to exchange views on the topic. And the second time, life stage beautification elements, i.e. parents, friends, colleagues, are also allowed to come where an exchange of views and perhaps they will be enlightened on the subject.
Lisa Baaske: Can you then always help or are there also such topics or problems where you say, there are now limits?
Mareen Eisenblätter: There are limits to therapy. We do all have therapy training or are in the process. It's just a matter of what if it's clinical or if it's along the lines of, "I need therapy, not counseling," then we refer. We support, but we can't do magic either. That is, we can help to say where you might have a shorter wait right now. We also accompany until someone is in therapy, but we cannot replace therapy from the health insurance. That is also not our task and that is why we work primarily in a preventive way. If anyone has any questions, we will of course answer them.
Lisa Baaske: So there is already a clear demarcation between counseling and then on the other hand, a therapy, which then a person actually should go to a psychologist. So they are also psychologists, but...
Mareen Eisenblätter: ... or a psychiatrist. And we also explain the difference, so you know where to go, what and how it all works here in the system and then mediate quite often.
Lisa Baaske: Recently, you've been reading more and more in the newspapers about the high psychological stress among students caused by the pandemic. Do you have any tips for our lecturers? How should they behave when they recognize that one of their students has problems? How can they recognize this and how should they deal with it?
Mareen Eisenblätter: So it's important for the employees to listen to their gut feeling. This means that if you think something is wrong, you can simply ask students to come in after a lecture, in a seminar, or say whether they would like to come to office hours or something, and then maybe just talk to them and give them our flyer. Or you can also get coaching from us in advance. We also have employees who know "I have to drop the bomb" or "I know this is going to be super difficult right now and I might have to give the student some not-so-nice news" - you can contact us beforehand and we can talk it through with them and then also say: "Yes, he can come to us right afterwards. So we also reserve crisis appointments like that. If you get really bad news, like that he failed an exam or a final paper, then you can come to us for coaching. Otherwise, actually, really openly and honestly approach the person and say, "I'm worried." You can't say anything against it and say that there are counseling services and there are also helping hands. We don't have to be the only ones, but in any case don't overlook it, but simply go through life with open eyes. And as a tip, how do you notice it: If interest in the seminar suddenly disappears or someone no longer shows up. Then ask, then look where you can support. You can give them help and tips, but if they don't want it, they don't want it. You just have to accept it. Then you can't be push them to do something they don’t want to do.
Lisa Baaske: Okay, maybe that's a good tip. You have to want it yourself, otherwise nothing works. You've been with PSB Magdeburg since April 2020. Can you draw a conclusion so far? What has been the biggest challenge in your job so far? I guess the pandemic plays a role, doesn't it? (laughs)
Mareen Eisenblätter: Oh yes, and English. (laughs)
Lisa Baaske: Okay. (laughs)
Mareen Eisenblätter: So my English level has gotten much better without a language course. So the situation of the international students, it's gotten insanely worse under the pandemic, the German students too. But for the internationals, it was very different again. And actually, I was super nervous before my first English-language consultation with so a little bit of school English and so on. But in the meantime, I love it and switch to the other language very quickly. Sometimes I even find myself speaking English, even though someone German is sitting across from me. But that was a big challenge, to bridge the language barrier, because we then have an intermediary language, and on the other hand to find many multipliers, people who can be brought on board, because such a consultation alone is sometimes not enough. That also means doing a lot of public relations work, dealing with the projects, establishing new things and also advertising for us. That was actually a big challenge, too. In addition to the whole thing that just quite classic pandemic symptoms, we have affectionately called it "Corona syndrome": Feeling homesick, feeling alone, being overwhelmed. You're not just a student, you've been an event manager under the pandemic. You had to organize everything yourself, and we did a lot of that. So there were many, many challenges. But I have a wonderful team and we tackled it all together.
Lisa Baaske: That sounds nice in any case. But did you also have the feeling that there were actually more people? That more people have contacted you as a result of the pandemic? And that perhaps the topics people came to you with have changed?
Mareen Eisenblätter: Well, because we started on April 1 and theret was pandemic right away. So it's difficult to say. But I think it was precisely this homesickness and loneliness, not settling well in a new city, in a new environment, that was a big issue. And yes, it's been steadily increasing, actually. But it hasn't exploded on us like that. We can still cope, so to speak, with all the requests. And in fact we have to check. So we are currently in the statistical evaluation and can tell you maybe in two weeks, -
Lisa Baaske: Okay. (laughs)
Mareen Eisenblätter: …numbers always increase even more. It has always increased. But there are always fluctuations with us anyway. Before Christmas, all hell broke loose, and during the exam period, when deadlines loom ahead, there are always small fluctuations where there is a bit more. And then there are also times when it's a bit calmer. But it has a lot to do with study..., for the students, with study organization and for the lecturers also actually with excessive demands. Sometimes, so much is demanded of them, they always want to be there for their students, but sometimes they don't know how. We're aware of the situation.
Lisa Baaske: But what has actually always interested me: Why is there such a peak phase for such things before Christmas? So because somehow family and all kinds of things ask for attention that probably makes it more difficult?
Mareen Eisenblätter: Because it decelerates, one focuses. So they always say, there are upswing phases in the year and there are times where we focus on ourselves. And so from the end of October, beginning of November, we all tend to focus more on ourselves and also then with regard to that, there is a Christmas break. That means I'm allowed to take a breath and then it's quite normal that at the end of October, November, December you focus more on yourself and also start to take stock of how my year has gone. If one would like to use the upswing, then one sees that spring is on its way, around the …corner.
Lisa Baaske: Okay.
Mareen Eisenblätter: That's a good place to implement new projects. (laughs)
Lisa Baaske: Okay, so not the first of January, but 21.3, so to speak, (laughs) very exciting. Do more employees report to you or more students? Or does that more or less, balance out?
Mareen Eisenblätter: Significantly more students. Because I think we need to do a lot more advertising to employees that they can come to us. I think sometimes it's also a fear, such a hurdle to come to us. But we are in the student union on purpose. We don't have any connections to the university at all. That means no one has the chance to find out, because we are subject to absolute data protection. We also like to use the Campus Theater, so no one sees that you come to us. Or we do online counseling. But it's already increasing now because word-of-mouth is actually also increasing and we're advertising more and more. But we would like to see even more employees contact us.
Lisa Baaske: Why do you particularly like doing the job then? I can imagine that sometimes it might not be that easy either.
Mareen Eisenblätter: Because it's super nice when you see that things work or that people..., I always say that it's super nice for the students to accompany people with a goal to achieve their dream job or to live out their dream job. There are such highlights when you get an e-mail or a Christmas postcard with "thank you" or I've already had a thesis in the dedication, then got a photo of it and you're happy about their successes. Of course, it's very challenging, but it's wonderful to be able to help people there and to achieve so much with a short intervention and also to celebrate successes with them. It's also a lot of fun. And when you get a call like that, with a "thank you" or an e-mail saying "Hey, I'm done now. I wanted to get in touch," of course we're happy.
Lisa Baaske: Do you also notice that people are critical of your work? I have definitely experienced that people look at you askance when you say that you go to a psychologist with your problems.
Mareen Eisenblätter: Yes, sometimes it is so indeed. But then we always say: "We are people like you and me". We can't do x-rays, we can't look into minds, we just ask questions, but we also do a lot of advertising for it. Because seriously, if I have a problem with my car, I'll go to an auto repair shop. Why shouldn't I, if I might need coaching and we are just a consulting institution and I see it more like a bit of life coaching and in other societies it's common practice. So why shouldn't I treat myself to a coach as well? And I think that's how you should see it, and sometimes it's also the case that when we advise someone who is doing better, we convince them hat we are nice people and supportive. Not what you actually think, what a psychologist is.
Lisa Baaske: Okay (laughs). You are a team of four. Are your resources sufficient to handle all the requests at the moment?
Mareen Eisenblätter: Currently still. That we have it... Nevertheless, sometimes even in the busiest times, it is very, very tight. We really consult 80% of our hours, each of us. We're part-time people. That means they have around the between 10 and 15 consultations over an hour a week. The workload is...the bar is high. Of course, it would be nice if we could expand it at some point, but it's a matter of finance.
Lisa Baaske: What do you wish for the future in terms of your work?
Mareen Eisenblätter: That even more people find their way to us, that we are more present. That people know where they can go. That we can still do many insanely crazy courses with really funny titles and try us out. That actually bring more people to us. So that many more get the idea to ask us "Couldn't you do this and that?". We have to see if we can get feedback and perhaps become a larger consulting institution. It also depends on demand. But that people simply find us faster and not through five corners, but that they are aware from the beginning that we exist.
Lisa Baaske: And finally, we are at the last question: Do you perhaps have a little expert tip? Do you have a basic recipe for dealing with stress and problems?
Mareen Eisenblätter: Yes, and everyone who knows me knows exactly what the answer is now (laughs). Self-care and clock your day by the traffic light principle. Make each day conscious either in the morning or in the evening how much in your day was stressful, so red and robbed your energy, was such a little energy vampire. What was yellow gave me strength, but also stressed me out. And what was green? And it's important every day to have something green that fills up my battery, besides eating and sleeping, and to go through life with it. Just to see that it's important. We have a lot of challenges, whether we're students, collaborating with people, just to pay attention, to take more care of yourself. Because if your battery is full, then you can also be there for others.
Lisa Baaske: I see. With me - my traffic light today is the podcast, in any case green, namely very exciting. But before it ends now, here comes our column "Long speech, short sense." I give you sentence starters and you complete them. The sentence I hear most often when I say I'm a psychologist?
Mareen Eisenblätter: Where is your couch and what color is it?
Lisa Baaske: Mental health matters because?
Mareen Eisenblätter: ...it is the greatest good, actually keeps us healthy for a very, very long time.
Lisa Baaske: The offers of the PSB should be used because?
Mareen Eisenblätter: ...because we are quite a fun team. You will laugh a lot with us and you should just treat yourself to a coach.
Lisa Baaske: Okay, so thank you very much for being our guest today. It was fascinating and many thanks to you out there in front of the speakers or on the headphones for tuning in. If you have any suggestions, topic requests, praise or criticism, please send them to Also, feel free to listen in again next month, when we'll be back with a new episode of our science podcast. Until then, stay healthy!
Intro voice: Listening to the podcast about the world of work at OVGU!