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Resources & Self-Help

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Tips for Referring a Student to Counseling

  • Speak directly to the student about your concerns, preferably in private. People in distress are almost always receptive to an expression of genuine interest, caring, and concern.
  • Be specific about the behaviors you've observed that have caused your concern (e.g., falling grades, drinking too much, crying a lot, withdrawing from friends, statements about suicide, etc.). Clearly stating your observations makes it more difficult for the student to deny that a problem exists and also lets the person know that you care enough to notice.
  • Remember that, except in cases of emergency, the decision whether to accept a referral to counseling rests with the student. If the student refuses the idea of counseling, it's usually best not to push.
  • Don't try to deceive or trick the student into counseling. Attempting to fool the individual will only diminish his or her trust in you and in the counseling process.
  • Many people have negative preconceptions about counseling based upon stereotypes. Educate the student on the process of counseling.
    • Let the student know that counseling is free and voluntary and that he or she can terminate the process at any time.
    • Make sure the individual knows that counseling is confidential.
    • Tell the student that counseling sessions are normally scheduled on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and that a typical session normally lasts for 50 minutes.
    • Let the individual know that counselors work hard to understand students, to see things from their points of view, and to then collaboratively help them to figure out solutions.
    • Assure the student that, if an appointment is made with a counselor and things don't work out, he or she can ask to meet with a different professional with whom he or she might feel more comfortable.
  • Assist the student in making an appointment at the Counseling Center. If the student is really upset, or if you're worried that he or she might not follow through, suggest that the individual make an appointment at the time you express your concerns. Some faculty, staff, and friends have even brought students directly to the Counseling Center when that level of support has been necessary.
  • Because people often mistakenly see coming to counseling as a sign of weakness, frame the decision to seek counseling as a mature choice that suggests that the person is not running away from problems.
  • If you have referred a student to the Counseling Center, additional support is sometimes helpful. The counseling process is often most difficult at the very beginning, and your encouragement may help to get the student over this initial hurdle. Please remember that, because of confidentiality constraints, counselors cannot talk with you about a student you have referred without a written release from that student.