University counselling services restructured

The University of Otago is going ahead with a controversial shake-up of  its counselling service.

Staff were told yesterday seven part-time counselling roles and a health  educator position would be disestablished.

Replacing them would be three full-time clinical psychologists, and four health and wellbeing counsellors.

The restructuring engendered considerable ill will among affected staff, not least because all the new roles are full-time rather than part-time. It is understood two of the affected counsellors are psychologists.

In a letter to staff obtained by the Otago Daily Times yesterday, the university said full-time roles were necessary because of growing demand for student mental healthcare.

"The university must obtain the greatest benefit from investment in these services.

"The panel believes full-time employment preference assists Student Health Services in this regard."

In the letter the university defended itself against claims the consultation process had been unfair.

An earlier staff submission obtained by the ODT revealed disquiet and disappointment about the way the university was handling the restructuring.

"The counselling team want to express their disappointment in the lack of genuine consultation and lack of good faith offered to staff who are directly affected by this proposal.

"While informal conversations have been held with some of the counselling team over the year, the possibility of the current roles being disestablished had never been raised prior to affected staff receiving the current proposal.

"This has prevented the counselling team from providing genuine feedback on transitioning to a new system, as we feel the most significant part of the proposal has been unduly withheld and statements made in good faith by the counselling team to assist the service move seamlessly in the direction of the review has been unfairly used as reasons to disestablish the current roles," the submission said.

In a statement yesterday, Student Health director Dr Kim Maiai said the reconfigured service would be more "flexible and responsive".

"The new team will have increased expertise in certain key clinical areas.

"To achieve this new service shape, it has sadly been necessary to disestablish eight part-time positions.

"Student Health will now recruit seven full-time clinical psychologists and  wellbeing counsellors in time for semester one, 2018."

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