When and how should I refer a student to the counseling center?
Many people associate counseling or with severe problems. Helping students in distress is a primary role of the counseling center, however we also emphasize prevention, development, and psychological wellness. Often, students are not always able to clearly understand the connection between emotional distress and their academic functioning, yet in 2007-2008, as in past years, over 90% of our student-clients reported at intake that their presenting problems were adversely affecting academic functioning to some degree.
Sometimes students will approach you directly for help, although problems may come to your attention in other ways too. For example, a student may cry in your office, may include disturbing material in academic assignments or may approach you with concerns about a classmate. You also may observe one or more of the following:
- changes in mood or behavior (e.g., withdrawal, unexplained crying or outbursts)
- anxiety and/or depression
- psychosomatic symptoms (e.g., headaches, nausea, unexplained pain)
- traumatic changes in personal relationships (e.g., loss, death)
- references to suicide
- drug and alcohol abuse
- sleeping or eating problems
- learning/academic problems or declines in performance or class attendance
- worry about failure, dropping out or transferring
If you have questions or would like some suggestions about how to approach a student, please call and speak with one of our staff. In the event of an emergency situation, it is important to respond by calling the appropriate authorities (University Police at the on-campus emergency line: 540-654-4444).
When you think that a student might benefit from counseling, talk to the student privately and directly about your concerns. Be specific about your observations and the behaviors that have raised your concerns. As always, it is important to listen carefully and be nonjudgmental.
Many University students have no experience with therapy and hold negative stereotypes, so be prepared for resistance when referring a student for professional counseling. Some students feel that they should work things out on their own or may react as if you are implying that they are “crazy” or “sick”. In fact, most students who use university counseling services have developmental issues related to the important adjustments encountered in college.
What should I say to the student?
Some specific points to consider:
- Let the student know that a situation does not have to reach crisis proportions for him/her to benefit from professional help.
- Emphasize the fact that it takes considerable courage to acknowledge and face one’s difficulties.
- Remind the student that the counseling center services are free and confidential and that our staff members are trained to work with University students and the types of problems that they commonly experience. It will help if you are familiar our services and can provide reassurance and information in a matter-of-fact way.
If the student agrees, then s/he may call or visit the counseling center to arrange an appointment. At times, you may wish to assist the student by making the call yourself or accompanying him/her to the counseling center. When you call, please tell the administrative assistant whether the student appears to be in crisis so that a timely appointment may be arranged.
Counseling is always a personal choice. If the student disagrees with your referral and/or refuses to seek assistance, and you still feel uncomfortable with the situation, then call for a consultation appointment to discuss your concerns. It is a good idea to follow up with the student at a later time, whether or not s/he indicates an intention to contact the counseling center. Owing to confidentiality, the counseling center staff cannot provide information about a student’s participation in services, however, the student is free to share that information with others as s/he chooses.
What if I have an urgent concern?
When a student is in crisis, we schedule an appointment on the same or next day. Often the student is the best judge of whether or not s/he is in crisis. The student simply needs to inform us when s/he makes the first contact, so we can schedule a session promptly. If a student appears extremely upset, it is appropriate to suggest a crisis appointment. The following situations may also be appropriate for crisis intervention: physical or sexual assault, suicidal or homicidal thoughts, death of a loved one, or a recent trauma.