A day in the life of Benita Southgate

26 November 2012

Benita SouthgateHelp at hand: Benita Southgate, principal psychologist.

Benita Southgate is the principal psychologist for the Counselling Service Unit at the Student Wellness Centre. Southgate heads a unit comprising four full-time and nine part-time psychologists who provide counselling services to UCT students. The team deals with the students' psycho-social difficulties on a daily basis to ensure that the impact on their academic functioning is kept to a minimum.

MP: What does an average day look like?

BS: I start my day with administrative tasks unless a student is in crisis, or we are having to cope with a high demand for service. I then conduct individual therapy, primarily, or a group intervention. I ensure that our protocols are up to date and that clinical procedures are followed. Part of my role is to conduct case overviews with my team. I meet with the psychologists individually once a week and we discuss the students presenting concerns, and intervention strategies, and we monitor risk factors; or the psychologists may flag a student who might require support in their absence. On certain days we have peer supervision, conduct training or have seminars as part of our continuous professional development activities. I am also involved in presenting workshops aimed at improving the mental literacy of our students, and run an Acute Support Group for students presenting with 'at-risk' behaviour.

MP: What are the challenges of such a day?

BS: The unpredictability and complexity of the concerns students present with. The degree of trauma students experience. High demand for service. Managing a team of dedicated and highly skilled psychologists who are required to balance their autonomy while working within an organisation. The potential for burn-out due to vicarious traumatisation or compassion fatigue. Managing ethical dilemmas and medico-legal concerns.

MP: What are the fun bits of such a day?

BS: I cannot recall fun bits, but most certainly meaningful bits! I appreciate the trust and confidence the students have in me and my team. I value the fact that, inevitably, we are part of their growth and development. I appreciate the support I am able to offer and being that maternal figure who at times could offer a hug (with their permission and at their request) or a firm word. Most importantly, I value and appreciate the resiliency our students have in being able to excel academically while dealing with significant stressors.

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