Referring a Student

When to Refer?

Aside from the signs or symptoms that may suggest the need for counseling, there are other guidelines that may help you define the limits of your involvement with a particular student's problem.

A Referral is Usually Indicated...

When a student asks for help. When a student presents a problem or requests information that is outside your range of expertise. Someone with whom you've gone as far as you can, but whom you feel still needs help. When you know the student on other than a professional basis that will interfere with your ability to be a nonjudgmental listener. If a student is reluctant to discuss a problem with you for some reason. If the student has physical symptoms; headaches, dizziness, stomach pains, and insomnia can be physical manifestations of psychological states.

How To Refer a Student for Counseling When you believe that a student might benefit from meeting with a counselor

Speak directly to the student in a straightforward, matter-of-fact fashion showing simple and concrete concern. For example, “I have read 2 reports filed by your professors that suggest your grades have been low and your attendance has been sporadic. I am concerned that something seems to be threatening your success in these courses.”

Make it clear that this recommendation represents your best judgment based on your observation of the student's behavior. For example, “Although I may not be a counselor, my experience has taught me that when a student’s grades are slipping and attendance is spotty, doing well in that course becomes more difficult as time passes.”

Be specific regarding the behaviors that have raised your concerns and avoid making generalizations or attributing anything negative to the individual's personality or character. For example, “Your math professor mentioned that you have missed 10 classes so far this semester, the last 6 in the 2 weeks since you returned from break.”

The option must be left open for the student to accept or refuse counseling. For example, “Although the choice is yours, I suggest that speaking with ‘Dr. Adams’ in the ‘Psychology Program’ on campus may be helpful; what do you think?”

Give the student room to consider alternatives by suggesting that perhaps you can talk about it later after the individual has had some time to think it over. For example, “It seems that you are not too anxious to talk about this right now; I understand. How about thinking about this a bit and we can discuss this further?”

If the student emphatically says "No," then respect the decision. For example, “As I said, the decision about seeing someone is yours to make. If you should change your mind, know that I am here to help you make the contact.”

Above all, do not rush. Unless it is a matter of clear urgency, go slowly.

  • Abrupt changes in academic performance/class participation.
  • Expression/communication of uncertainty with regard to goals and direction.
  • Communication of experiences of personal loss.
  • Inability to modify tardiness in attendance/with assignments.
  • Communication of personal concerns interfering with performance.
  • Communication of lack of ability, negative self-put downs.
  • "Worn Out" classroom appearance/behavior.
  • Abrupt/somewhat abusive interactions with others.
  • Isolation/lack of interaction with others.
  • Emotional outbursts.
  • Suspicion of substance abuse/physical abuse.
  • Communicating unrealistic goals.
Why Students Don't Seek Help
  • Don't want to appear weak
  • Believe they can solve it themselves
  • Fear of public exposure
  • Don't see the problem
  • Too proud
  • Don't know how to ask