The Catholic University of America

 

HELPING A STUDENT

Faculty and staff members are in a unique position to identify and help students who are in crisis. This may be particularly true for students who cannot or will not turn to family or friends. Anyone who is seen as caring and trustworthy may be a potential resource in time of trouble. Your expression of interest and concern may be a critical factor in saving students' academic careers or even their lives.


What Can You Do?

TALK to the student in private when both of you have the time and are not rushed or preoccupied. Give the student your undivided attention. It is possible that just a few minutes of effective listening on your part may be enough to help the student feel cared about as an individual and more confident about what to do. If you have initiated the contact, express your concern in behavioral, nonjudgmental terms. For example, "I've noticed you've been absent from class lately and I'm concerned," rather than "Where have you been lately? You should be more concerned about your grades."

LISTEN to thoughts and feelings in a sensitive, nonthreatening way. Communicate understanding by repeating back the essence of what the student has told you. Try to include both content and feelings ("It sounds like you're not accustomed to such a big campus and you're feeling left out of things.") Let the student talk.

GIVE HOPE. Assure the student that things can get better. It is important to help them realize there are options, and that things will not always seem hopeless. Suggest resources: friends, family, clergy or professionals on campus. Recognize, however that your purpose should be to provide enough hope to enable the student to consult a professional or other appropriate person and not to solve the student's problems.

AVOID judging, evaluating, and criticizing even if the student asks your opinion. Such behavior is apt to push the student away from you and from the help he or she needs. It is important to respect the students value system, even if you don't agree with it.

MAINTAIN clear and consistent boundaries and expectations. It is important to maintain the professional nature of the faculty/student or staff/student relationship and the consistency of academic expectations, exam schedules, etc. Remember your role. Your job is to provide support and to make referrals when support isn't enough. Don't get involved beyond what seems comfortable or appropriate.

REFER. In making a referral it is important to point out that: 1) help is available and 2) seeking such help is a sign of strength and courage rather than a sign of weakness or failure. It may be helpful to point out that seeking professional help for other problems (medical, legal, car problems, etc.) is considered good judgment and an appropriate use of resources. For example, "If you had a broken arm you would go to a doctor rather than try to set it yourself." If you can, prepare the student for what they might expect if they follow your suggestion. Tell them what you know about the referral person or service. Some faculty and staff have found it helpful to personally escort students to the Counseling Center.

FOLLOW-UP. Arrange a time to meet with the student again to solidify their resolve to obtain appropriate help and to demonstrate your commitment to assist them in this process. Check with the student later to see that the referral appointment was kept and to hear how it went. (The Counseling Center is bound by confidentiality not to reveal this information to faculty or staff without the students written consent.) Provide support while the student takes further appropriate action or pursues another referral if needed.

CONSULT when in doubt about the appropriateness of an intervention, call the Dean of Students Office (319-5619), Public Safety (319-5111), or the Counseling Center (319-5765). A student whose behavior has become threatening, violent, or significantly disruptive may need a different kind of approach.


If a Student is Reluctant to Seek Professional Help

Many people believe that only very disturbed people seek therapy, so your referral might be interpreted as a comment on the severity of the problem. Reassure the student that therapists at the Counseling Center work with people with a wide range of concerns. Problems need not reach crisis proportions for students to benefit from professional help. In fact, it is much easier to work on problems if they are addressed before they reach crisis level. Normalizing the process of seeking help may be especially helpful for international students whose countries may not have similar views of psychological counseling.

Reluctant students might also be relieved to know that they can speak with a therapist on a one-time basis without making a commitment to ongoing therapy. Furthermore, any contact and information shared by the student is kept strictly confidential within the Counseling Center and will not be disclosed to parents, faculty, other University departments, or even you, except with the student's written permission. Finally, it is important to acknowledge, validate and discuss the student's real fears and concerns about seeking help. It takes considerable courage to face oneself and acknowledge one's limitations.

In some cases, you may find that the student has already sought counseling services at the Counseling Center, or elsewhere, and was unsatisfied with the experience. There are many reasons why counseling may not be successful in a given situation. Please encourage the student to consider giving counseling another try, perhaps with a different counselor.

Finally, while it is important to care about the emotional well-being of students, we cannot make their decisions for them, and counseling is always a personal choice. Occasionally, even your best efforts to encourage a student to seek counseling will be unsuccessful. If the student resists your referral and you remain uncomfortable with the situation, contact the Counseling Center at 319-5765 to discuss your concern.


Scheduling an Appointment

Students must make their own appointments, either in person or over the phone. You can assist this process by offering to accompany the student to the Counseling Center or to be with him or her while he or she calls to schedule a first appointment. If you or the student think the matter is urgent and needs immediate attention, the student can be seen for an emergency appointment that day. Whenever possible, please contact the service to let us know you are referring the student to us. This will help us prepare for the student when he or she arrives.


Counseling Services for Faculty and Staff

Counseling for faculty and staff is available through the Optum Employee Assistance Program. This service can be reached 24 hours a day, toll free at 1-877-747-7126.




Last Revised 15-Jun-09 11:30 AM.