With its exquisite clock tower and lush green gardens, Government College University (GCU), Lahore opened its doors to students in 1864. By 2002, GC elevated to a university position and remained in the top ten universities of Pakistan. With the highest graduation rate in the country, GCU has been home to many notable personalities in the history of Pakistan. From the national poet Dr. Allama Iqbal to authors Bano Qudsia and Ashfaq Ahmed, and three Prime Ministers of Pakistan, GCU has produced successful individuals who served the country with excellence. It might have taken a long time for GCU to achieve its university status, but in 1926, GCU was the only institute after the University of Calcutta to offer a postgraduate program in the Department of Psychology. The discipline of Psychology was initially a part of the Philosophy Department, and it wasn’t until 1962 that Psychology was established as an independent department under the mentorship of the renowned Psychologist Prof. Dr Muhammad Ajmal.

The current areas of study offered in Psychology at GCU include Applied Psychology (BSc Hons), MS in Clinical Psychology, MS in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, and an MS/MPhil in Child Counselling. Earlier this year, Prof. Dr Asghar Zaidi, Vice-Chancellor of GCU, announced that the Department of Psychology is going to establish Pakistan’s first Unit for Forgiveness and Practice. Prof Zaidi said, “Forgiveness liberates us from anger, resentment, bitterness, and destructive behavioral patterns. The increased level of stress, frustration, anger, resentment, and destructive behaviors such as suicide and self-harm are prevalent in our society. As a university, this is our major responsibility to address such problems. Only a few psychologists have expertise in this field in Pakistan”. In collaboration with Dr Robert Enright, founder of the International Institute of Forgiveness at Wisconsin, the unit will offer a certification course in Fall 2021 on “Forgiveness Psychology and Practice” focusing on personal and interpersonal forgiveness. This course not only aims to educate people but to equip them with the power of forgiveness to improve quality of life. A student from the Department also commented that getting to learn psychology at GCU is wonderful and prestigious in its own way as the students get to realize the increasing need to raise mental health awareness in all aspects of life.

Academia Magazine reached out to some of the students to get an insight into what it’s like being a student of Psychology at GCU and here is what we found.

Interactive environment vs relative grading

GCU takes a hands-on approach in training its students to become successful in their respective fields. The department welcomes its first-year students to an interactive environment where the students soon learn to ask questions in class and voice their opinions without fear of judgement. Though, on the other hand, GCU also uses a relative grading system that hinders students from getting a good grade even at a high percentage. Relative grading requires teachers to assess students’ performance based on overall performance of the class and assign grades to each in relation to grades from other students of the class. This sometimes ends up not only demotivating the students, but it also leaves a poor impression on the student’s transcript.

The need to introduce Forensic Psychology

Moreover, GCU, like the rest of the educational institutions in the country, does not offer a degree in Forensic Psychology. With the growing crime rate in the country and its struggling justice system, it’s high time that Pakistan realizes the need for Forensic Psychology. This field of Psychology offers a chance for psychiatrists to work with the legal system by diagnosing and giving their professional opinion on the mental state of the offender for a just punishment and stop the criminal overrepresentation of mental illnesses to escape punishment. With the help of expert opinions of Forensic Psychologists, the legal system determines whether the offender is fit to stand trial and make legal decisions in cases where the offender pleads insanity at the time of offence known as the Insanity Defense.

Job market for psychology graduates

Due to limited areas of study in the field, the job market for the Psychology graduates of GCU is not very vast. With its rich history and influence, GCU does have a sway over the employers, but in the field of Psychology, the name of the institution is not enough. With the limited branches of Psychology taught in universities, many fresh graduates apply for the same positions in their respective fields causing many to remain unemployed. At least 3 years of experience is needed for the graduates to secure a position in their jobs, causing many to look for work in the education and marketing sectors instead of practicing what they learned. Mental healthcare facilities, which do hire inexperienced graduates for internships and jobs, offer minimal to no pay, discouraging the young psychologists even more. With the increasing awareness of mental health and its impact on daily life, people are paying more attention to their mental well-being. Pakistan needs more qualified psychologists in every area of study, who are equipped to help their patients gain an insight on their mental health and its direct link to behavior and to help with other mental health issues that affect daily life.

The supportive faculty

Meanwhile, faculty of the Psychology Department at GCU does its best to understand the struggles of students and help them in the best possible way. Being psychologists themselves, they understand what the students go through. Moreover, the staff of GCU, especially the Psychology Department faculty, is cooperative and well informed about what they are teaching. The student body of GCU describes the department faculty as humble and Dr Syeda Salma Hassan, the chairperson of the department, to be empathetic in nature. Students get an early exposure in the field under the mentorship of qualified teachers who promote interactive sessions during their classes and arrange various activities for the students of Psychology to prepare them for their professional careers. GCU also invites qualified psychologists from all over the city to give seminars to the students regarding various issues every week. Just recently the Department of Psychology arranged two seminars that were most illuminating to the student body: REBT by Cyma Salman and Self Hypnosis by Oskan Hassan. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that helps people manage their emotions and behavior in a healthy manner by unlearning negative thinking patterns. These types of educational programs held at GCU empowers the students with the latest findings in the field of Psychology, but no matter how much one learns about how a human mind works, one can never fully comprehend the complexity of how each individual thinks.

The lacking hands-on experience in the field

One person can never fit the entire criteria of a disorder explained in the DSM-5 handbook. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the handbook used by health care professionals to diagnose mental disorders. The handbook contains the criteria to diagnose mental disorders such as symptoms and descriptions. If there is one thing that GCU cannot teach its students through textbooks and educational seminars, it is how to approach each individual patient and diagnose them correctly when the patient doesn’t check all the boxes listed in the DSM-5 handbook. Psychology students getting first-hand experience in the field can only achieve this. To fill the missing links in the chain, GCU must arrange trips across different mental healthcare facilities for its students to get a more hands-on learning experience and take the initiative to offer more programs in the field of Psychology.

Related: Ageism is as bad as racism: GCU VC

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