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Referring a Student for Professional Help

When to Refer

In many cases of student distress, faculty and staff can provide adequate help through empathic listening, facilitating open discussion of problems, instilling hope, validating and normalizing concerns, conveying acceptance, giving reassurance and offering basic advice. In some cases, however, students need professional help to overcome problems and to resume effective functioning.

The following signs indicate a student may need counseling:

  • The student remains distressed following repeated attempts by you and others to be helpful.
  • The student becomes increasingly isolated, unkempt, irritable, or disconnected.
  • The student’s academic or social performance deteriorates.
  • The student’s behavior reflects increased hopelessness or helplessness.
  • You find yourself doing ongoing counseling rather than consultation or advising and feeling yourself pulled in directions with which you are uncomfortable.
  • The student shows significant and marked changes in behavior and mood.

How to Refer

  • Speak to the student in a direct, concerned and caring manner.
  • Because students may initially resist the idea of counseling, be caring but firm in your judgment that counseling would be helpful. Also, be clear about the reasons that you are concerned (“I am worried about you doing okay in school and I bring this up really because I care about how you are doing.”).
  • Be knowledgeable in advance about the services and procedures of the Counseling Center and other campus help-giving agencies.
  • Suggest that the student call to make an appointment, and provide the phone number to the Counseling Center (315-386-7314) as well as the location (Miller Campus Center 225).
  • Sometimes it is useful to actively assist students in scheduling an initial counseling appointment. You can offer the use of your phone or call the receptionist yourself while the student waits in your office. Include the student in the process of relaying information to the Counseling Center.
  • In some situations, you may find it wise to walk the student over to the Counseling Center.
  • If you need help in deciding whether or not it is appropriate to make a referral, call the Counseling Center (315-386-7314) for consultation.
  • Communicate continued concern and openness to help.

Once a referral is made, communication between the student and the Counseling Center is confidential. State law and ethical code prohibit disclosure of confidential information, including whether or not appointments are kept.

Behaviors, attitudes, feelings take time to change, and a student may show slow progress or, for a while, none at all. Trust the process and communicate your continued concern and availability.

*Adapted from Ithaca College