Students need holistic support to adapt to increasing pressures

Young adults have a lot to deal with these days: social pressures, financial obligations, career choices, relationship challenges and basic survival as they bridge the gap from the teen years into adulthood.

According to Professor Gertie Pretorius, who heads the Centre for Psychological Services and Career Development (PsyCaD) at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), modern problems are multi-faceted and young people are under a lot of pressure, having to push what coping skills they have to the max.

‘The psychological problems we see students dealing with include a range of things: depression and anxiety, family and financial problems and adaptation to university life.’

She says South African society is rather unique and there is a unique set of cultural and social issues to deal with. Pretorius points out that, for many rural students, going to university is like immigrating to a foreign country as they really miss home and battle to adapt. ‘The students often find themselves battling with depression and anxiety caused by both family and financial problems, as well as problems adapting to an entirely new environment.’

Relationships are key when it comes to psychological issues, believes Pretorius, and is what the PsyCaD centre bases its principles on. ‘Eighty percent of our clients are students between the ages of 18 and 25, which developmentally places them in a place where they are dealing with sexuality and sexual orientation and sexual relationships. They need compassion and understanding to deal with the myriad of challenges they face and are offered life skills to thrive in our ever-changing world.”

PsyCaD is the only centre of its kind at a university in the country and is unique in that it serves not only the UJ community of 50 000 students and around 6 000 staff members but also members of the community outside of the University. The Centre provides services including psycho, social, cultural, academic and career services and also assists in the implementation of preventative and developmental psycho-social interventions to enhance student and staff wellbeing and academic success.

UJ is a microcosm of the community and society at large, with many issues that need to be dealt with, as and when they arise. Over the past few years, the centre has deepened its relationships with other facilities and support structures and is equipped to deal with any crisis. PsyCaD reacts to traumatic events by providing on-the-spot counselling. The 24-Hour Crisis Line is increasingly utilised by students, staff and community members. These services are available free of charge for students and at a reduced rate for staff members and the community. The centre also spearheads a number of awareness campaigns, such as suicide and rape awareness as well as programmes looking at gender violence,” says Pretorius.

Another focus area is providing holistic services to people with disabilities and support where it is needed. “Not all institutions are equipped to assist people with disabilities and performing regular daily activities can be challenging. Entering the workplace can also be a daunting task for people with disabilities and PsyCaD assists with career guidance and life-skills training aimed specifically at those with disabilities,” she says.

Pretorius says the Centre’s staff are highly trained on a consistent basis to meet the student and community needs.

“Psychological services of a holistic nature need to be made accessible to every student and the community. It is vitally important that the stigma attached to psychological support services disappears as more and more people get to understand it, and what it takes for human beings to live successfully in the world. We want to build resilience within our clientele in terms of psychological strength,’ she concludes.



Prepared on behalf of the University of Johannesburg by Cathy Findley Public Relations


  • PsyCaD is also an HPCSA-accredited internship organisation for the professional training and development of intern counselling psychologists, intern educational psychologists and intern psychometrists, all of whom complete internships with PsyCaD annually.
  • In 2012, the centre’s focus changed from a curative and reactive paradigm, to a preventative, developmental and proactive paradigm.