Interview with the Director, Part 2: Professional Counselling Services


In the second part of this four-part Interview with the Director, Prof. Bhaskar answers questions regarding the level and quality of professional counsellors institute provides and the challenges in availing of their services.

You can look through the other parts here: Part 1, Part 3, Part 4.


How far is IIT Madras complying with the Anandhakrishnan report?

We have adopted it, yes. We are completely compliant with the report. They specify a certain number of counsellors , but we determine the number of professional counsellors on payroll, based on utilisation.


How many professional counsellors do we have, as of now?

I’m not sure about the number as of now, but we subject the numbers to review every time we renew the contract, and change them depending on the level of utilization. We see whether students are having to wait for an appointment, and if they are, we increase the number. If they aren’t, then there is no point in getting counsellors who will remain idle. Similarly, for the psychiatrist in the hospital, we look at the appointment calendar to see whether more psychiatrists are required.


Do you think that students are availing these facilities available?

See, we know the numbers (of students availing the facilities) – though I cannot reveal them – and they are not small. Now the question is, is everyone who needs the services availing of them? That is the hard part.  In all this, it is a probability game: even if 95% of the students who need the services avail of them, the 5% who need it but don’t are the issue, right? So the numbers who are availing are quite a big number, but if you ask me whether everybody who needs it is availing — that I don’t know. That’s the big problem… If somebody doesn’t want to speak to the institute staff, we have a psychiatrist and counsellors, who are working together and refer students to each other. The psychiatrist is recommending students to the counsellor and the counsellors are recommending those students who they feel need medical attention to the psychiatrist.


Is there a way to measure the quality of the services given? How does the outsourcing  process work? Some students are dissatisfied with the quality of services…

See, the issue is this – in this case, it is difficult for us to get feedback from the users, because even we, as in the administration, don’t know their identities. The counselling staff don’t reveal to us the names of the people who are going to them  except under particular circumstances. In cases where a person is referred to the hospital for medical care, records do exist, but they are only available to the Chief Medical Officer. It isn’t as if this data is published or even shared with us — even for hospital records, privacy is maintained. We can then only get feedback from somebody who might complain to us about the service.

Also, there aren’t too many sources of such professional counsellors in Chennai — it isn’t as if there are plenty and we can choose between organizations that offer this service, unlike, say, in the case of mess catering. I suspect the counsellors coming here might be variable in competence and quality, so it is possible that somebody has met a counsellor who asked something inappropriate, and it is possible that somebody met another counsellor who was very good. There’s limited choice, so the approach we take is that if they are not reliable, in terms of availability and so on, we take serious action. But if they are reliable and there are complaints of this kind, we usually forward the feedback to the agency. The agencies also need to train their people better. Our feeling is that the system is not so well established in the country and the city that we have plenty of choice, though we have some choice that wasn’t available 20 years ago. There are a few agencies and we depend on them, because we can’t recruit a counsellor from any place.

This issue of how well they are doing counselling is one that comes up for us every time we renew the contract – the number of people availing the services and how well they are doing. The number of people is easy;  we ask the counsellors – they don’t have to give names – but the number of people who came to see them and we also know if people are telling us that they aren’t able to meet a counsellor. We know that the number is sufficient if nobody is waiting to meet the counsellors and that is ok right? As far as quantity is concerned, we have no limit – we can go on increasing the number as much as required. Quality issues, though, are a little tricky – they can only be based on informal feedback like this, because we can’t contact all the people who went and ask “Did you like it?” because we don’t even know who they are.


You mentioned earlier that some students withdrew from the professional services provided. Is this the cost that we have to bear for seeking outside expertise?

We do not think this is the reason why they withdraw; the CMO tracks as to why they drop out out. Sometimes we seek expertise outside the institute and pay, and sometimes we do not — these issues arise because some expertise is not available with the consultants we have here. I know of a case where the boy was asked to go to a clinical psychologist and there was six hours of interviewing to figure out where the problem was. If the psychiatrist within the institute wants a clinical psychology assessment, then he will refer the student to a clinical psychologist. If we find that there are a lot of such cases, then we will bring a clinical psychologist here, but for a rare case, we cannot do that. Whatever happens, payment is not the problem — we always find money. Sometimes the problem is emotional, and the students stop going to the psychiatrist. That is a part of the problem as some would feel there’s nothing wrong with them.


Townhall with the Director, Prof Bhaskar Ramamurthi, is being organized by MiTr, SAC and T5E for students to voice their concerns on, and provide suggestions to improve, the condition of mental wellness within the Institute.

Date: Thursday, 12/11/15
Time: 6 to 8 PM
Venue: Central Lecture Theater

Don’t miss it!

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