Mentalizing the University experience: an exploratory study on the relationship between university students' reflective functioning, psychological well-being and academic performance

Giovanna Esposito, Raffaella Passeggia, Giuliana Pepicelli, Anna Cannata, Federica Parlato, Maria Francesca Freda


In a Clinical Health Psychology perspective, which focuses on the promotion and maintenance of mental and physical health of the individuals, mentalization (operationalized as reflective functioning; RF) may be conceived as a psycho-social competence associated with psychological well-being and good outcome treatment. In the university contexts, some studies demonstrated that the students' academic achievements may be related, on one hand, to RF improvements, on the other, to psychological well-being. Nevertheless, there is a lack of studies exploring RF in relationship with both academic achievement and psychological well-being regarding university students. This study aims at assessing the effectiveness, in terms of RF, psychological well-being and academic performance, of ten counselling groups addressed to 63 underachieving university students lagging behind in their studies. The counselling adopted an innovative narrative methodology, the Narrative Mediation Path (NMP), which aims to improve mentalization and psychological well-being in order to produce an impact on the students' academic performance. The Reflective Functioning Questionnaire (RFQ), the Psychological General Well-Being Index (PGWBI), and the Academic Performance Inventory (API) were administered at the beginning and at the end of the counselling. Results showed an overall improvement of students in genuine mentalization, especially of the hypomentalizing dimension of RF, an increase of the psychological well-being index and its sub-dimensions (except for the General Health dimension) and an improvement of the academic performance. This study highlighted the effectiveness of the NMP methodology for students' success and suggests the utility of planning clinical psychology interventions aimed at enhancing mentalization in the university contexts.


Mentalization; Group counselling; Clinical health psychology; Psychological well-being; University students.

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