Referral Guide for Faculty and Staff

Who should be referred?

A referral for psychological counseling should be considered when you believe a student’s problems go beyond your own experience and expertise, or when you feel uncomfortable helping a student with some issue. A referral may be made either because of the way the student’s problems are interfering with his or her academic work or with your teaching, or because observation of the student’s personal behavior raises concerns apart from his or her academic work. Some more easily recognizable indicators that a student may be experiencing more stress than he or she can handle include:

  • Marked decline in quality of course work, class participation, quality of papers or test results, increased absence from class or failure to turn in work.
  • Prolonged depression, suggested by a sad expression, apathy, weight loss, sleeping difficulty, tearfulness.
  • Nervousness, agitation, excessive worry, irritability, aggressiveness, non-stop talking.
  • Bizarre, strange behavior or speech.
  • Extreme dependency on faculty or staff, including spending much of his or her time visiting during office hours or other times.
  • Marked change in personal hygiene.
  • Talk of suicide, either directly or indirectly such as, “I won’t be around to take that exam anyway” or “I’m not worked up about getting a job, I won’t need one.”
  • Comments in a student’s paper that raise concern.

These behaviors may be caused by or indicative of:

  •  Poor study habits and procrastination
  • Difficulty adjusting
  • Excessive drinking and drug abuse
  • Suicidal or homicidal ideation or threat
  • An alcoholic or drug dependent household
  • A difficult or abusive relationship
  • Dependency
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • An eating disorder
  • A learning disability or an attention deficit
  • Psychosis
  • An emotional or physical trauma
  • Lack of sleep or insomnia
  • Neurological or other physical condition

Making the referral

One way of introducing the topic of a counseling referral is to explain to a student what behaviors you have observed that cause you worry. Emphasize the emotional responses that you have heard from him or her, showing your interest and concern. For example, “You sound very depressed about your relationship.

I have found that other students who feel this way have been helped by talking to a counselor. How would you feel about that?”

In speaking to the student about counseling it is important to keep in mind some of the negative reactions a student may have to the idea and be ready to discuss them. You can explain that the majority of students who seek counseling are not “crazy” but are dealing with everyday “problems in living”; nor does it encourage dependency (counseling is time-limited on campus). Counseling does provide a chance to explore feelings and solve problems with the help of an objective, sensitive and concerned listener.

Once the student has agreed that counseling might be useful, there are several possible steps to take, depending on the student’s attitude and the urgency of the situation:

  • Give the student information about the Counseling Center and urge him or her to call.
  • Offer to let the student call from your office right then, so that a public commitment will have been made.
  • Accompany the student yourself to make sure he or she arrives at the Counseling Center, and provide the office with any necessary information.

Although probably ambivalent, the student should want help. Coercing a student to go to counseling is not likely to have positive results in the long run. Generally, unless there is some immediate concern about the welfare of the student or others, it is better to try to maintain your relationship with the student rather than to force him or her to go to the Counseling Center. The idea can be brought up again later.

After the referral is made

There are two ways to find out whether a student pursued a counseling referral. The first, and more preferred way, is to simply meet with the student and ask. Just as it is reassuring for students to know that you cared enough about them to recognize that they were having a problem, it is even more reassuring for students if you take the time to follow-up with them. This behavior indicates your continued interest. You will find that most students will respond very openly and positively to your inquiry, while others may indicate some embarrassment. No matter how they respond, they will know that you are interested and care.

The second way is to ask the student to sign a release form at the Counseling Center, giving his or her counselor permission to confirm the student’s attendance in counseling. If a student chooses not to give us written permission, however, we cannot contact you.

Why do you need the student’s written permission?

Counselors are bound by law and by the American Counseling Association’s ethical guidelines to keep all information regarding our clients confidential.

Confidentiality is a very important and necessary condition of counseling. It means that when a student (or anyone) comes for counseling it is clearly explained that anything regarding that student’s counseling is strictly confidential. This includes content (what is discussed), commitment and progress (whether or not the student is invested in the process or has made changes in behavior), and consistency (whether or not the student is attending sessions). This also means that unless the student gives us written permission, we will notify no one as to whether that student is or is not in counseling.

Important phone numbers

If a student is experiencing a direct threat to himself/herself or others or acting in a bizarre, highly irrational, or disruptive way, call:

Security – Ext. 3289
Sr. Kathleen Tuite Vice President for Student Life Ext. 3534
Robin Davenport Director of Counseling/Student Development Center – Ext. 3905
Sister Deborah Lynch Counselor – Ext. 3305
 Mountainside Hospital Crisis Unit (973) 429-6963 (leave message and your call will be returned).
East Orange Mobile Crisis Unit (973) 266-4478 or (973) 266-4479

Dealing With Students in Distress

For more information click here.


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