Because you come in frequent contact with many students, you are in an excellent position to observe students, identify those who are in distress, and offer assistance. Your care, concern, and assistance will often be enough to help the student. At other times, you can play a critical role in referring a student for professional assistance and in motivating him or her to seek such help. A few guidelines for responding to distressed students are summarized below:
The first important step in assisting distressed students is to be familiar with the symptoms of distress and attend to their occurrence. An attentive observer will pay close attention to direct communications as well as to implied or hidden feelings.
Don't ignore strange, inappropriate or unusual behavior -- respond to it! Talk to the student privately, in a direct and matter-of-fact manner, indicating concern. Early feedback, intervention, and/or referral can prevent more serious problems from developing.
Offer Support and Assistance:
Among the most important helping tools are interest, concern, and attentive listening. Listen to the student in a respectful, non-threatening way. Convey support and understanding by summarizing what you hear the student saying, their feelings, and the nature of the problem. Suggest other resources that the student can take advantage of; e.g., friends, family, or professionals on campus.
Consult with Professionals:
In your attempt to help a student, you may need input from a mental health professional. Counselors at the Counseling Center can suggest possible approaches to take, can intervene directly with students, or can provide you with support. Call 617-5109 for assistance.
Refer Directly to a Mental Health Professional:
Know your limits as a help--giver; only go as far as your expertise and resources allow. When a student needs more help than you are able or willing to give, it is time to make a referral to a mental health professional.
Report bizarre or disruptive behavior to the Dean of Students (x2842), Dean of Freshman (x5547) and/or Student Life (x2488 or x5081): This is important because referring to the Counseling Center does not guarantee that the student will follow through. Even if they come for one visit, they may not return and someone else needs to be alerted to the concerns. We are limited by confidentiality, and the other offices can either monitor the student or take action that we cannot.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT MAKING A REFERRAL TO THE COUNSELING CENTER
When you have decided that professional counseling is indicated, inform the student in a gentle yet direct, concerned, straight-forward manner. Because many students initially resist the idea of counseling, it is useful to be caring, but firm, in your judgment that counseling will be useful. Be clear and concrete regarding the reasons you are concerned. However, except in emergencies, it is important to allow the student to accept or refuse counseling.
Suggest that the student call or come in to make an appointment. Give the Counseling Center phone number (410-617-5109) and location (Humanities Center, one flight up in the turret). Remind the student that our services are FREE AND CONFIDENTIAL.
Sometimes it is useful or necessary to assist the student more directly in the appointment-setting process. In these instances, you can offer the use of your phone, or call the receptionist yourself, while the student is in your office. In an immediate emergency, you may decide to actually walk the student over to the Counseling Center. If possible, a call that you are bringing a student would be appreciated. Since a student can best be helped by counseling if he or she is self-motivated, reserve the more direct approaches of referral for instances that you believe to be emergencies.
Finally, if you are concerned about a student but unsure about the appropriateness of the referral, feel free to call the Counseling Center at 410-617-5109 for a consultation.
A FINAL NOTE ON CONFIDENTIALITY: We are required by law and by professional ethics to protect the confidentiality of all communication between psychologist and client (except in cases where harm to self or harm to others is indicated). Consequently, we cannot discuss with others the details of a student's situation or even indicate whether the student is, in fact, in counseling. In order for information about the student to be released to you or others, we must first get the written permission of the student. However, students are typically more trusting of the counseling relationship if they believe that their privacy and confidentiality are maintained by their counselors. Therefore, it is not our usual practice to request a release of information from a student when he or she is referred for counseling. You may, however, wish to follow up with the student about your referral.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT RESPONDING TO STUDENT EMERGENCIES
Emergency situations are rare, however when they do occur, immediate and decisive action is necessary. Generally, a psychological emergency involves one or more of the following conditions:
- A suicidal attempt, gesture, or stated intention
- Behavior posing a threat to self
- Behavior posing a threat to others
- Loss of contact with reality
- Inability to care for oneself
In the event of one of these emergency situations, it is helpful to follow the guidelines below:
- Stay calm, as this will help you respond more effectively, and also help to reduce the student's anxiety or agitation.
- If possible, provide a quiet, private place for the student to rest while further steps are taken.
- Talk to the student in a clear, straight-forward manner.
- If the student appears to be dangerous to self or others, do not leave the student unattended.
- Make arrangements for appropriate intervention or aid.
The following options are available to you as resources for responding to mental health or drug and alcohol abuse emergencies on campus:
- Phone consultation with a mental health professional is available at the Counseling Center (ext. 5109) or the Alcohol and Drug Program (ext. 2928).
- You can walk the student over to the Counseling Center (Humanities Center, Room 150) or the Drug and Alcohol Program (Charleston 02B) for an emergency consultation; however, call and inform the receptionist in advance.
- If the student is unusually aggressive or otherwise unmanageable, campus police are available to offer assistance (ext. 5911).
Be prepared to provide the campus resource you contact with as much information as possible about the student and the situation.
There are numerous agencies and individuals on the campus whose primary role is to provide students with the support assistance they need to succeed. Some of these are listed below:
- Student Health Services (410-617-5055)
- Disability Support Services (410-617-2062)
- Campus Ministry (410-617-2222)
- ALANA Services (410-617-2310)
- Student Life Office (410-617-2488)
- Academic Advising & Support Center (410-617-5547)
- Commuter Affairs (410-617-2713)
- Career Center (410-617-2232)