When to Refer

Aside from the signs or symptoms that may suggest the need for counseling, there are other guidelines which may help the faculty member define the limits of his/her involvement with a particular student’s problem.

It is important not only to hear what the student is saying but to be attentive to the non-verbal behaviors as well as the feelings underlying the message to you.

A referral is usually indicated under the following circumstances:

A person contemplating suicide.

This has the potential of being the most severe of all crises dealt with herein. Although there are wide differences in the seriousness of suicidal thoughts, any time a student is thinking of it seriously enough to discuss it with you he or she is probably pretty upset. Although it is important for you to help deal with immediate feelings, a threat to self or others ethically requires strong intervention on the part of the faculty or other professionals. In order to assess the severity of the suicidal thought, a counselor from the Counseling Center should be contacted. Offer to walk with the student to see the Counselor. It is possible to save a life by taking quick, effective action.

If a student is reluctant to discuss a problem with you for some reason.

You may sense that the student may not feel comfortable talking to you; for example, the student might be more at ease talking with a male or female. In that case, you should refer the student to an appropriate individual.

If the student has physical symptoms.

Headaches, dizziness, stomach pains, insomnia can be physical manifestations of psychological states. If students complain about symptoms they suspect (or you suspect) may be connected with their problem, it would be in the best interest to refer the student to the Vice President of Student Development, University Police, or Counseling Services.

Someone you feel you have not helped, or whom you have gone as far as you can go with, but who you feel needs more help.

None of us can help everyone needing help because of personality differences, lack of experience, or a variety of other reasons. When you have the feeling that you have not been helpful enough, try to be honest with the student and suggest a specific person, the counseling services or an agency that would meet the student’s needs.

When a person asks for a referral.

You need some information from the person to know where the best referral is. It is also a good idea to explore with the student how urgent this need is. It may be that the student is feeling quite upset and some exploration with you will help the individual feel more comfortable being referred.

When a student presents a problem or requests information which is outside your range of knowledge.

Refer the student to the appropriate person who can provide assistance.

Lack of objectivity on your part.

You may know the student on other than a professional basis (friend, neighbor, relative), may know the person the student is talking about, or be identifying too closely with the problem being discussed. Any of these may interfere with your ability to be a nonjudgmental listener. It would be better for the student to be referred to someone else.