The Catholic University of America

Sensitively Referring Students in Distress to the Counseling Center

Signs and Symptoms to Look For:


o    Changes in hygiene, clothing, weight, swollen eyes

          Behavioral Markers

o    Tardy, tired, apathetic, stressed, withdrawn, moody/anxious, self-destructive, helpless, risky

          Interpersonal Markers

o    Overly dependent, poor boundaries, complaints from peers, disruptive



Talking to the Distressed Student:

        Be clear on your objectives, which may include assessing ability to meet academic needs, problem-solving around obstacles to performance, and consideration for overall well-being of the student

        Talk to the student in private when both of you have the time and are not rushed or preoccupied

        Help the student to feel cared for

        Strike the balance between encouraging the student to express vital information and respecting professional boundaries

        Communicate understanding by restating the essence of what the student has told you

        Give hope



How to Refer:

  • Ask “Are you talking to someone about this?”
  • Clearly communicate through expression and voice your concern and desire to help
  • Talk about your observations
  • Let the student know that the issues they are discussing with you are not your area of expertise
  • Encourage them to utilize professional resources on campus (i.e., Counseling Center, Student Health Services, Campus Ministry)
  • Normalize seeking help; not “You need help!”
  • Can assist with referral by helping them make the call or by giving information
  • Encourage the student to call the Counseling Center and make his or her own appointment
  • Follow up with the student to check on status and follow through


Example Statements:

  • “I wanted to speak with you because I’ve noticed ______, and I just wanted to see how you’re doing.”
  • “Maybe one of the things we can do is help you get some extra support.”
  • “I’ve seen some changes in you over the past couple of weeks and I’m worried that you don’t seem like yourself. I know there are good counselors at the Counseling Center who can talk with you about whatever you’re going through right now.  It doesn’t cost anything for an appointment.  Would you be interested in setting up a meeting with someone there?”


Dealing with Ambivalence:

  • Feeling depressed, loss of motivation to seek support
  • Research indicates most people are ambivalent about starting counseling
  • Assist student in making the phone call or walk student over
  • More likely to utilize services when they have an appointment
  • Not excessive hand holding, right amount of assistance