If you encounter a distressed student and decide to refer the student to counseling or other psychological services, there are actions you can take to increase the chances the student will follow through, according to Aaron Hughey, a professor in the Department of Counseling and Student Affairs at Western Kentucky University.
1) Be open and direct about your referral.
- Show sincere interest in the student’s wellbeing
- Clearly communicate your intent to help
- Make sure the student understands why you are making a referral
- Make sure the student knows what he or she can expect to accomplish by using the services
2) Help the student take the next step.
The referral’s timing is critical, Hughey says. Students who seem receptive to a referral in the moment but do not get help in taking the next step might change their minds later. When a student agrees to a referral, you can increase the chances of follow-through by
- calling a counselor and describing the troubling behavior in an accurate, helpful way
- accompanying the student to the counseling center
- remaining with the student in the counseling center (if your schedule allows) until the counselor is available
- introducing the student to the counselor and briefly describing the issue in a calm manner. This helps demonstrate that working with a counselor is a common, practical way to address challenges.
If the issue is not urgent and you are unable to accompany the student, refer the student to a specific service, office, or person. Hughey says.
Simply recommending that a student seek counseling (without identifying a specific office or counselor) is usually ineffective.
3) Take care of yourself.
Pay attention to warning signs of stress, such as feeling overwhelmed or angry, and get assistance for yourself when you need it, Hughey says. If the student’s experience triggers difficult feelings about an experience of your own, the counselor can help you distance yourself from the situation without making the student feel alienated.
This article was drawn in part from Campus Law Considered’s free report How to Respond to Signs of Depression in College Students and Other Student Mental Health Issues.