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Tips for Referring a Student to Counseling

As a staff member or loved one, it is common that students come to you first when feeling distressed or overwhelmed. This can provide students a safe and compassionate ear to listen. However in some cases, you might find yourself in a situation where you feel they need more specialized help than you are able to provide. The following are some guidelines to consider as you try to get the student to seek help with a counselor:

  • 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.
  • Assist the student in making an appointment at the Counseling Center (540-568-6552). They have to make the appointment for themself, but you can offer to call or walk them over.
  • If the student is really upset, or if you're worried that they might not follow through, suggest that they make an appointment right then. Some folks even walk students over to the Counseling Center when 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, clinicians cannot talk with you about a student unless there is a release of information on file.

Many people have negative preconceptions about counseling based upon stereotypes and stigmas associated with mental health. Educate the student on the process of counseling.

  • Counseling is free and voluntary. They can quit at any time.
  • Counseling is confidential.
  • Counseling sessions are normally 50 minutes and are scheduled weekly or bi-weekly.
  • Clinicians work hard to understand students, to see things from their points of view, and to then collaboratively help them to figure out solutions.
  • If they make an appointment and it isn't a good fit, they can ask to meet with a different clinician. 

Remember, you can rarely go wrong if you approach the student in a caring, concerned way.