'South Asian' international students' perceptions about counselling in the UK: A qualitative exploratory study using thematic analysis

  • Sukriti Kainth

Student thesis: Doctor of Counselling Psychology


Background and objectives: With the increase in the number of South Asian international students at universities in the UK in recent years, many cross-cultural issues have arisen. The literature review in this thesis introduces the challenges faced by international students, including language and cultural barriers, academic and financial difficulties, interpersonal problems, racial discrimination, and loss of social support, alienation and homesickness. Their increased vulnerability to such challenges may increase their need to access counselling in the UK. However, very little is known about their perspectives on mental health and seeking counselling. Presently, there is a lack of literature relating to South Asian international students perceptions of counselling. The present study examines this gap and contributes to the existing literature by exploring, in depth, the perceptions of counselling among South Asian individuals in a university setting in the UK. Further, it explores the factors that influence their perceptions. The main research questions in this study were: 1) what are the perceptions of South Asian international students towards accessing counselling in the UK?2) What are the factors that facilitate and inhibit South Asian international students in accessing counsellingMethodology:A qualitative design was used for this research. Eleven participants were recruited for this study in an attempt to include a heterogeneous sample made up of both genders across different cultures and countries. Individuals involved came from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and the Maldives. The students perceptions of counselling were explored in depth using semi-structured interviews and the data were analysed using thematic analysis. Findings: Seven main themes were derived from the thematic analysis: Previous positive experiences of counselling, previous negative experiences of counselling, positive perceptions of counselling, negative perceptions of counselling, different understanding of counselling, barriers to accessing counselling, factors which encourage access for counselling. While previous research has shown that Asian students are unwilling to seek counselling due to stigma towards mental health, the findings of this study demonstrate that South Asian international students were open to seeking counselling in the UK when faced with challenges such as career or academic-related issues. The findings also suggest that language and cultural factors could be a barrier for them to seek counselling in the UK. Additionally, this study indicates new findings regarding the preferences of South Asian international students towards a more directive approach to counselling, as well as the characteristics of a counsellor, like warmth and empathy, could be factors which encourage access to counselling. It also demonstrates that a number of participants had a different understanding of the term counselling equating it with the concept of career guidance or advice. Conclusion: This study concludes that promoting the use of counselling services on campus or online awareness campaigns about mental health could reduce stigma amongst international students and could encourage them to seek such services more in the future. Further, the use of a multicultural approach by counsellors may encourage international students to access such services and might allow counsellors to more appropriately tailor their traditional approaches to meet the needs of this population.
Date of Award1 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorTerry Hanley (Supervisor) & Laura Winter (Supervisor)


  • South Asian international students; counselling; perceptions; university counselling services; qualitative research; semi structured interviews; thematic analysis

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