Feeling stressed out?: Help services at Uniarts
Apart from knowing the latest pedagogical and performative advances, music teachers and students should care about their mental and physical health. This includes issues such as controlling stage-fright, finding the enjoyment of performing on stage, finding the benefits of music, issues related to motivation, social phobia or depression, homesickness, toxic behavior of teachers towards students and vice versa, being unable to cope with the demands of the curriculum, bullying, alcoholism, family problems, etc.
Physiotherapy, psychotherapy, educational and clinical psychology, psychiatry, preventive medicine, or neuroeducation are some of the approaches that can be considered when facing the different challenges that occur as a result of the demands of our music profession and environment.
At the University of the Arts Helsinki, the study psychologist runs different courses that provide psychological support. These are in Finnish, but if there is enough interest, courses can also be arranged in English. The courses planned for this academic year are titled in Finnish: “Rasitusvammat, tunteet ja ajatukset”, “Vaativa taide – itseruoskinnasta itsemyötätuntoon”, “HOT-ryhmävalmennus – henkistä hyvinvointia ja joustavuutta edistämässä”.
The University of the Arts Student Union and intranet Artse provide extensive information on health and wellbeing services for students on their wbsites. Well-being services that are available for the university personnel are listed on the page "Occupational health and wellbeing" in Artsi.
I decided to interview the University Chaplain, the Rev. Henri Järvinen (HJ) and psychologist Kalle Partanen (KP), in order to know a bit more about the work they do. I was interested in doing so right now when the academic course is about to start, so that students and teachers are made aware of the University’s services and that their work gets the visibility it deserves here in my blog.
I thank both HJ and KP for their kindness and time in answering my questions. And I encourage any student or staff member who is in need of help, even with the smallest of concerns, to contact them:
Tel. 050-355 9294 / 09 2340 2543
Tel. 050 4482 453
-What are the main services you provide at Uniarts?
HJ: As a university Chaplain my work is to support individuals and university as a community. Both students and staff. It means mostly individual meetings (pastoral counselling), group meetings (welfare counselling sessions) and other support like interventions, workshops etc. I also provide spiritual and cultural support: prayer groups, meditation, retreats, workshops and so on.
KP: We provide services to enhance wellbeing and give psychological support. The main line of work is to help students get unstuck with their studies. Students can meet with the study psychologist 1 to 5 times and get help with their studies. Yearly I meet with more than 100 students and meet with them appr. two times or more. The study psychologist can also help students find other help they might need. Student health services, FSHS, provide students with actual mental health care and assessment, so this is the place to contact if one thinks he or she needs more help with his or her problems (e.g. severe depression). That being said, it is ok to contact the study psychologist if one is unsure what to do and whether the matter is such that mental healthcare would be helpful. Some students already have a psychotherapist or other form of mental healthcare but see a study psychologist a few times on study-related matters. A big part of the work is to provide students with psychological support for their artistic work, performance etc. Questions the students might have include: “Am I good enough as an artist?”, “How come I find the making of art so painful and hard sometimes?”, “Why do I lack motivation in my projects with art even though art has been the most important part of my life?”.
-Do you only help students or also teachers and other staff members of Uniarts? Which of these groups of patients is larger? What about gender, age, or art field?
HJ: All. Students is the larger group, usually at the beginning of studies, next come third/fourth year and then graduating/longtime students.
KP: Students are our clients and the staff members and teachers are our allies in the effort to provide students with a nourishing and good environment for learning and development as artists. The staff members and teachers can consult a study psychologist if they find themselves worrying about the wellbeing of a student or group of students. We also provide psychological support for the teachers and staff members concerning their work with the students via coaching sessions, lectures and workshops. Sibelius Academy is the biggest of the academies so most of the work is done with them, but work has been done with all the academies and art fields.
-What are the most common challenges that you find your clients are facing?
HJ: Stress from studies and life, anxiety due to different reasons, academic pressure and pressure to succeed, identity problems, family & relationship issues. Also more and more spiritual and big life questions.
KP: We as humans have many kind of struggles in our lives that are completely normal in their context and at the same time can provide us with tremendous amount of suffering. Students have all kinds of problems in their lives, as we all do. Break ups, death of loved ones, problems with teachers and fellow students can be very stressful and it is natural that these events affect studies, artistic work and performance. Strain injuries are a source of a lot of stress especially for musicians and dancers. Often times I find that my clients have lost the meaningfulness in their artistic endeavors and fixate instead on goals and being “flawless” or “safe”. This easily leads to a lot of stress, anxiety and low mood. The process of making art becomes a struggle, instead of being creative and a meaningful journey.
-How do you work with these issues?
HJ: Usually short therapeutic counselling, we have some groups and courses, I also have a few long term methods to work with.
KP: Personally, I have a background in integrative cognitive psychotherapy and this gives me good tools in understanding these issues. While my work at the University is not psychotherapy, my training gives me tools that allow me to help clients get unstuck with their endeavours. I’m interested in third wave cognitive behavioral therapies (e.g. Compassion Focused Therapy, ACT, Functional Analytical Psychotherapy, Metacognitive Psychotherapy) and have sought training in these. I have found them extremely useful in my work.
-Which other health professionals do you work closely with? (For example if a client is in need of medical treatment or long-term psychiatric care)
HJ: Usually Student Health Services.
KP: If I find that the student is not getting the help she or he needs, I contact the doctors etc. responsible for their care and talk about the situation. As I rarely have long term client relationships, I scarcely work with other health professionals.
-Do you provide coaching for motivational issues, studying techniques (i.e. mental and physical skills, self-regulation, memorizing, sight-reading) or performance enhancement?
HJ: Sometimes but more life coaching than study.
KP: I do. However I think that there are a lot of talented people who are skillfull at mental skills training at the University of Arts Helsinki who have in-depth understanding of their fields of art and think that it is best that they provide these kinds of trainings and courses for the students. I find that these experts on mental skills training could work with other academies and fields of art as well. They have a lot to offer for all of us.
-Could you share any tips for music students and teachers about the prevention of the most common challenges you find?
HJ: Be patient with yourself, discuss with others, live positively and lead a well-rounded lifestyle, be brave, have peace.
KP: In order to avoid needless suffering and stress it is most important to think what is valuable, vital and meaningful in one’s life and start to do things that matter to us most. It is wise to think what concrete things we can do in our daily life in the domains of health, personal relationships, work/studies and leisure time. It is important for our wellbeing to have balance. For music students this means doing things outside the music world from time to time. Paradoxically the antidote to stress is to do more, but different things, things that invigorate, nourish and replenish us.
-In your experience, is there any hurdle that is specific to people working in the arts as opposed to people working in other fields?
HJ: Stress and competitive pressure are common, also social problems that are related to work or personal life.
KP: The life trap of “relentless standards “(as Dr. Jeffrey Young calls it) is very common with artists and can cause prolonged stress, anxiety and depression. Art students often think that their value as a human being is measured via how well they perform or what is their status in the world of art. This is not uncommon in other fields and is common in all the universities, but in my mind it is more pronounced with art students.