The University of Sydney’s Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is just one of a number of services that the University provides free of charge to its students. Although CAPS is a major pillar of student services, most students are probably unaware of the litany of PDF handbooks available in the ‘self help’ area of the CAPS site.
I decided to investigate the utility of these handbooks by reviewing one of them, titled Learn to Build and Maintain Healthy Relationships. The first impression I took from this handbook is that it treats the subject matter in general terms. In all fairness, the subject of relationships is a broad and complicated one, and to this end the handbook provides us with a number of hyperlinks to self-administered quizzes and exercises such as the “Learn to Communicate Effectively Pages.” The majority of these hyperlinks are, disappointingly, broken like the relationships they purport to fix, and the presence of such digital cobwebs begs the question of how useful a student—genuinely seeking to gain some relationship maintenance skills—may find this resource.
The language used is at times quite impersonal; the step-by-step guide to problem solving in relationships we learn about “parties” as opposed to people, as though we and our romantic partner(s) were engaged in a contract law dispute. The result of this corporate law tone is an ironic failure of communication, potentially alienating the reader. The advice itself—communicate well, prepare to compromise, work out how you feel, empathise, maintain your sense of self—is not the problem. The problem is the rigid presentation.
The penultimate section of this handbook dispenses advice on “how to meet new people.” In between instructing the reader to approach someone who is reading and talk to them, “what’s the worst that could happen?!!” (no emphasis added), and giving tips on practising how to look natural and relaxed, this section does hit on a significant issue that is increasingly weighing on our lives: loneliness.
While well intentioned, this handbook neglects to mention domestic violence, though it should be noted that the CAPS website has a separate crisis section that provides a hotline number, nor does it discuss how to proactively seek consent or negotiate the boundaries of consent in sexual relationships.