UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


Student Interventions Review

This systematic review has integrated the research evidence to appraise how well psychological therapies are working for students.

What is the problem with current support?

University counselling services report sharply increasing numbers of students seeking wellbeing support and presenting with more severe mental health problems. Psychological therapies offered to students were developed for the general population, and may not work as effectively as if they were adapted in specialist ways for students. For example, they could focus on supporting with difficulties prevalent in student experiences, such as academic pressure, self-harm, substance misuse, and relational distress. 

Why review the evidence?

Research can evaluate the effectiveness of mental health interventions. However, few studies have focussed on establishing what works best for students specifically. Fortunately, though, many studies have included students as participants (as students are often open to taking part). So, a systematic review of these studies has been conducted in order to appraise whether student-adapted approaches showed more success than generic modes of therapy. 

What did the review find?

The review integrated data from randomised-controlled trials (RCTs) of psychological therapies that included student populations. It found that existing generic therapies are effective in supporting students with depression and anxiety disorders - two of the most common mental health problems. Yet, there has been little research into treating students for PTSD, self-harm, or suicidal ideation. There are also few studies examining student-adapted interventions, and, surprisingly, these few studies showed unfavourable results for these interventions.

What does the review recommend?

These adaptations may have been ineffective because researchers diluted the therapies in the hope of increasing student engagement. Yet, recent qualitative research suggests that students may desire fuller treatment, and future trials should investigate improving engagement by addressing motivation, not diluting therapy. Further research is required in general into understanding student-specific causes of mental health problems and what works best to support them. 

Who is involved?

This review was conducted by PhD student Phoebe Barnett with her co-authors. You can find out more about Phoebe's work here and follow her on Twitter here

Access the original article here

Read a blog post by Phoebe explaining more about her results, and find out more about RCTs and systematic reviews, at the PsychUP for Wellbeing blog.

What is this type of research?

This is an evidence review study. 

What are they for?

These reviews are for getting to know the evidence base that exists for a particular research topic. This topic might be a specific mental health problem (e.g. depression, anxiety) or perhaps a treatment for it (e.g. CBT, counselling). 

How do they work?

There are different types of reviews. Literature reviews are broad in scope and use varying methods to assess the nature, range and opportunity for synthesis of available evidence. Systematic reviews are often considered the 'gold standard', which attempt to identify, assess and integrate all published and unpublished research on a specified research question. They examine both quantitative and qualitative data, appraising their findings and potential biases using methodical, transparent, replicable methods. Sometimes quantitative results from papers are combined, using a statistical technique called 'meta-analysis.'