When and How to Refer Students for Counseling

A Guide for Faculty and Staff

As a University of Akron faculty or staff member, you are in a unique position. Students may look to you as a role model and as a resource for help with their problems. You play a significant role in student persistence and success.

Because of this unique position, you will often be the first one to recognize signs of distress in a student. This guide is designed to introduce you to the services of the Counseling Center (CC), to help identify some resources for the student, and to give you information on how to refer students for counseling.

Signs of Student Distress

Some common signs of student distress which warrant a referral to the CC include:

Depression or references to suicide

Most of us have experienced brief episodes of depression in our lives. However, depression which lingers and interferes with normal patterns of functioning is likely to require professional intervention. Some common signs include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness
  • Problems with eating or sleeping
  • Social withdrawal
  • Feelings of helplessness and worthlessness
  • Chronic feelings of fatigue, or difficulty concentrating and remembering
  • Crying at unexpected times

All references to suicide must be taken seriously rather than discounted or ignored. It is wise to check out any concerns with the student and to consult the CC. If a student identifies a specific suicide plan, an immediate referral is critical.

Sudden changes in behavior patterns

Changes in a person's familiar patterns of functioning are often a sign that other problems exist. Behavior that may be a sign of concern include:

  • Withdrawal from campus community and other support systems
  • Mood shifts
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Unexplained absences from school or work
  • Recurrent physical ailments
  • Destructive use of substances 

Blocks to learning

Psychological conflicts and learning problems may impair a student's ability to learn. Examples include:

  • Excessive fear of criticism and/or rejection
  • Perfectionism
  • Incapacitating test anxiety
  • Distractibility or inability to focus
  • Procrastination or loss of motivation
  • Persistent flashbacks or traumatic events
  • Learning disabilities
  • Under-developed study skills

Significant life changes and crises

Life presents us all with sudden unexpected changes of crises and discussing them with a professional does help. Examples of such issues include:

  • Death or illness of a family member or friend
  • Divorce of parents
  • Breakup of significant relationship
  • Inability to accomplish an important goal 
  • Other traumatic experiences

Additional significant issues

Students face many potential problems, all of which may not be covered in this brochure. These other issues include:

  • Eating problems
  • Sexual assault
  • Substance abuse
  • Family problems
  • Discrimination or other forms of oppression

Practical Tips for Making a Referral

  • Feel free to consult with CC staff before and/or after you speak with the student.
  • Arrange a private time to talk with the student. 
  • Keep the tone of your talk supportive. Talk with the student as if you were a concerned friend rather than an authority figure.
  • Discuss the specific things that you have seen that concern you.
  • Let the student respond to your concerns.
  • Re-emphasize your care and support, regardless of how he/she responds. Listen.
  • You may mention that other students may struggle with similar issues and that the multiple stressors associated with attending college can be overwhelming.
  • If appropriate, mention that there are people on campus or in the community who can help.
  • CC counseling services are free. Students do not have to struggle with their issues on their own. Seeing a counselor does not become part of their academic record.
  • Remember, you cannot make students get help. The best thing you can do for them is to be supportive, inform them of the available resources, and bring in others who can help.
    Visit the webpage at http://www.uakron.edu/counseling for resources such as ULifeline and CC ULifeline.

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Akron, OH 44325
Phone: 330-972-7111
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