Though the model of psychological consulting rooms has been adopted by schools throughout Ho Chi Minh City over the past few years, its growth remains stagnant while professionals have struggled to seek a face for their job.
Such consulting rooms have received scant attention from schools and are considered by several to be something that can be done without.
A recent survey launched by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on 10 middle and high schools in six inner and outlying districts in Ho Chi Minh City revealed that seven out of ten of them do not use consulting rooms.
Some of these schools’ management put their lack of use down to their failure to recruit qualified psychological teachers and specialists, and keep them devoted to their job on meager pay.
Several schools have also tasked teachers in subject areas including civics or history with providing counseling, with limited success.
Ly Phong Middle School, located in District 5, is one of the few in the city to run a consulting room.
Opened three years ago, the facility has operated to its full capacity and offered counseling to a total of 970 students.
Most of the students have sought professional advice on how to cope with their parents’ divorce and domestic violence by which they are traumatized.
They also come to pour out their heart on romantic love amongst teenagers, or find out how they are supposed to behave toward their teachers and friends in particular situations.
Tran Thi Thu Ngan, the school principal, has observed a remarkable change regarding the number of service seekers and counseling content since the consulting room was opened.
Previously, a seasoned history teacher, who is also an invigilator, was tasked with supplying psychological consultancy to students.
“However, few students came for his support as they tended to feel detached and not motivated to confide in a stern yet sympathetic teacher/invigilator,” Ngan explained.
The school’s management then decided to switch to their current consulting room and employ three independent specialists to work there.
“Students are less reluctant to open up about their problems to independent counselors, who also fit their extracurricular schedules. These staffers can also work elsewhere for additional incomes,” she added.
The model languishes
Except for the psychological counseling at Ly Phong Middle School and some others, that work has gone largely ignored or only been cursorily done by those surveyed by Tuoi Tre.
At a high school named H., the psychological consultant, who is also a full-time librarian, mostly replies to students’ queries via email.
Few students have the gut to disclose their secrets or queries regarding their puppy love or sexual matters to prying eyes in the library, where the consultant works all day.
Similarly, a civics teacher at another high school named Q. has also been assigned to offer psychological service.
Four or five psychological staffers at L. High School were employed, but they all left after a few months.
The school is currently short on such service, though three months of the academic year has passed.
Likewise, An Nghia High School is yet to employ a new psychological counselor after their former staffers were offered only meager salaries and had to travel long distances from their home to school.
Tran Dang Thao, who holds a master’s degree in psychology, revealed that he was paid a mere VND2.3 million (US$101) each month for a counseling job at a high school following his graduation around eight years ago.
“Our job is not clearly defined and is heavily dependent on the school management’s attention and availability,” he explained.
He added out of 10 of his university classmates who had also worked at local schools as psychological counselors, only three remain on the job.
Le Thi Minh Hoa, a holder of a master’s degree in psychology and a counselor at Bach Dang Middle School, located in Go Vap District, said she has been upset that parents invariably seek help from their children’s head teachers instead of school psychological specialists whenever their teens run into problems.
Some parents even dismiss psychological specialists’ advice as trivial.
“Our job remains in its infancy in Vietnam. We really hope it will be given due attention like that of our colleagues in other subjects,” she noted.
School psychological specialists’ job is to disentangle students’ problems, bolster their self-confidence and life skills and sometimes refer them to specialized hospitals for proper treatment in case of worrying mental disorders, a staffer said.
Many experts said that there should be a legal framework for schools and educational management agencies to run psychological counseling courses on campus.
Tuoi Tre’s aforementioned survey conducted among nearly 100 students from the 10 middle and high schools across Ho Chi Minh City revealed that approximately 60 percent of the respondents are unaware of psychological counseling services available at their schools, while the remaining 40 percent choose to seek vocational orientation guidance rather than psychological mentoring.
Another survey carried out among 150 high school students in Ho Chi Minh City by Le Thi Hang, an official from the Ministry of Education and Training, indicated that 30 percent of the students polled are in constant need of psychological consulting, whereas 70.6 percent only occasionally feel this way.
Fourteen percent expressed their wish to retreat to a separate, cozy consulting room for a heart-to-heart with counselors.