PsycServ in action: Guiding struggling students towards healing, thriving

| Written by Arlyn VCD Palisoc Romualdo

Mileen Jan “MJ” Natividad. Contributed photo.

鈥淭he therapy work with PsycServ is one of the best things that happened to me.鈥 That鈥檚 what Mileen Jan 鈥淢J鈥 Natividad had to say about the impact of the UP Diliman (UPD) program on their life.

They had first heard about PsycServ, short for UPD Psychosocial Services, as a BS Psychology freshman back in 2018. The special extension project under the Office of the Chancellor was just around a year old then. It was created 鈥渢o develop programs and services that address urgent and pressing mental health and psychosocial wellbeing needs of the UPD community.鈥 Its services are free of charge.

Like MJ, Mariau 鈥淎u鈥 Beltran was a freshman in 2018. But she hadn鈥檛 known about PsycServ until COVID-19 happened, when email blasts about the service were sent out. The sudden shift to remote learning left students scrambling to cope with and adapt to the unfamiliar. Add the fear of contracting a new disease and forced isolation from stay-at-home orders, it was only a matter of time before mental health issues among UP constituents manifested, increased, and worsened鈥攆rom those who already had pre-existing conditions and those who were at risk, to those who thought and felt they were okay.

It was in that backdrop that Au and MJ reached out to PsycServ in 2021.

Tipping points

鈥淚 was performing far from the fullest of my capabilities. I knew there was something wrong because I couldn鈥檛 function as I [normally] would have in my studies,鈥 Au admitted. She was about to enter her third year when dropped classes and INC (incomplete) marks delayed her for a year. For a long time, she said, she battled low self-esteem, the inability to focus, and memory lapses that had gotten worse over time. She already felt extremely anxious during the pandemic and juggled 鈥渢he more challenging [academic] load.鈥 Upon the advice of one of her professors, in whose class she had gotten an INC, Au finally contacted PsycServ.

For MJ, who revealed that the hardest traumatic experiences they had to recover from happened in high school and college, rock bottom happened that year. They longed to heal, to regulate their emotions鈥攅specially anger, and to address their 鈥渞ed flags.鈥 All this without affecting their academics. MJ also desired to shift out of BS Psychology because they didn鈥檛 feel they 鈥渇it the environment.鈥 But the pandemic changed shifting guidelines and procedures, and brought lockdowns that made it difficult to 鈥渃onnect with people and ask for help.鈥 On top of that was the stigma against seeking help for mental health. There was fear of being judged, especially by family members. But MJ did seek help and they were the first in their family to sign up for psychotherapy. By some good fortune, their PsycServ sessions started just as the stress of being a transferee to the Bachelor of Sports Science program was taking root.

PsycServ successes

鈥淚t changed the way I talked to myself. Many of the things that made me anxious were unpleasant narratives I echoed to myself,鈥 Au narrated. She signed up for two periods, from June 2021 to March 2022 and from May 2022 to January 2023. Au said that she was assigned to Nisseth Carido, a licensed psychologist who helped her realize how something as seemingly simple as changing the way she talked to herself could make an enormous impact on her wellbeing. 鈥淚t took me years before I really sought and accepted help and I鈥檓 happy I did. 鈥 I was very satisfied with the services [PsycServ] provided.鈥

Mariau 鈥淎u鈥 Beltran. Contributed photo.

Seven months after her PsycServ sessions, Au earned her undergraduate degree and is now pursuing her Juris Doctor at the College of Law. To pay it forward, she made a toolkit of the lessons and skills she learned from her PsycServ sessions and openly shares it here:

MJ, who availed of PsycServ four times, with seven to eight sessions of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) each time, said the services provided truly addressed their mental and emotional needs. They explained that the psychosocial support specialists assigned 鈥渨ere able to effectively guide me in my healing journey and create a space where I could freely and safely express myself. 鈥 DBT has [done] wonders in every aspect of my life and has helped me grow in ways I never thought I could.鈥 They shared that they have started to reach out and connect with people again.

MJ also graduated in 2023. Summa cum laude. Best Thesis. Miles away 鈥渇rom merely trying to pass my classes while recovering from trauma.鈥

Hope for the future

Everything starts with the self-recognition of one鈥檚 problems. But it is the willingness to seek help and the commitment and perseverance to stay on the road to healing that will make a difference, Au and MJ pointed out. Both of them highly recommend PsycServ to those who need and want psychosocial support.

鈥淲ith all the progress I have made and continue to make, I think I can say that I am proof that the therapy framework is effective and life-changing for assertive and action-oriented people like me,鈥 MJ asserted.

Au has, in fact, already endorsed PsycServ and teletherapy, in general, to many of her peers. 鈥淚 believe it would be suited to anyone, 鈥 if you have concerns [about] yourself, with how you are performing; if you observe changes in your drive and motivation.鈥

Moving forward, MJ dreams of a PsycServ with more manpower so more free sessions can be provided to those who need it 鈥渂ecause DBT takes a lot of time and practice.鈥 Au, on the other hand, wishes for a hotline to help students who may be 鈥渙n the brink when they decide to seek help.鈥 Further, she hopes that PsycServ will be institutionalized because that would mean 鈥渃onsistent management, budget, and programs鈥 which could help many students who cannot afford to pay for psychotherapy.

UPD took a step in this direction, going beyond PsycServ with the launch of its Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Network in October. A unification of related initiatives and service providers, it is UPD鈥檚 greater response to the increasing demand for MHPSS services. Composed of UPD units and organizations鈥擯sycServ, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Office of Counseling and Guidance, UP Health Service, Gender Office, Office for the Advancement of Teaching, UP Integrated School, Ugnayan ng Pahinungod, and the University Student Council鈥攐ne of the Network鈥檚 landmark projects is the 2023 UPD MHPSS Protocol: A Comprehensive Guide to Providing Mental Health and Wellbeing Support to UPD Students.


For further details, read more about PsycServ at: