If you choose to approach a student you are concerned about or if a student reaches out to you for help with personal problems, here are some suggestions which might make the opportunity more comfortable for you and more helpful for the student.
TALK to the student in private when both of you have the time and are not rushed or preoccupied. A face-to-face meeting is preferable to the telephone and especially email, though those media are useful on some occasions. Give the student your undivided attention. It is possible that just a few minutes of effective listening on your part may be enough to help the student feel cared about as an individual and more confident about what to do. If you have initiated the contact, express your concern in behavioral, nonjudgmental terms. For example, “I’ve noticed you have been absent from class lately and I’m concerned,” rather than “Where have you been lately? You should be more concerned about your grades.”
LISTEN to thoughts and feelings in a sensitive, non-threatening way. Communicate understanding by repeating back the essence of what the student has told you. Try to include both content and feelings, (“It sounds like you’re not accustomed to such a big campus and you’re feeling left out of things.”) Let the student talk.
GIVE HOPE. Assure the student that things can get better. It is important to help them realize there are options, and that things will not always seem this hopeless. Suggest resources: friends, family, clergy, coaches or other professionals on campus. Recognize, however, that your purpose should be to provide enough hope to enable the student to consult a professional or other appropriate person and not to solve the student’s problems.
AVOID judging, evaluating and criticizing even if the student asks your opinion. Such behavior is apt to push the student away from you and from the help that he or she needs. It is important to respect the student’s value system, even if you do not agree with it.
MAINTAIN clear and consistent boundaries and expectations. It is important to maintain the professional nature of the faculty/student or staff/student relationship and the consistency of academic expectations, exam schedules, etc. You may be able to help a student understand options related to a deferred grade, late drop or withdrawal from the semester. If a student seems to feel overly distressed about making a decision about options, personal assistance can be facilitated through the Counseling Center.
REFER. In making a referral, it is important to point out that: 1) help is available, and 2) seeking such help is a sign of strength and courage rather than a sign of weakness or failure. It may be helpful to point out that seeking professional help for other problems (medical, legal, car problems, etc.) is considered good judgment and an appropriate use of resources. If you can, prepare the student for what to expect. Tell the student what you know about Counseling Center services or other campus and community options.
TIME. It is important to be aware that options for referral vary depending on the time of day. The Counseling Center is open Monday through Friday from 8AM to 5PM for appointments and crisis intervention. After hours and on weekends, students who are in crisis are advised to call UAPD at 348-5454 for emergency support.
FOLLOW UP. Arrange a time to meet again to solidify the student’s resolve to obtain appropriate help and to demonstrate your commitment to assist in this process. Check later to see that the referral appointment was kept and to hear how it went. Provide support while the student takes further appropriate action or pursues another referral if needed.
CONSULT. When in doubt about the advisability of an intervention, call the Counseling Center. After hours and on weekends, call UAPD at 348-5454.
Adapted with permission from the Pennsylvania State University department of Counseling and Psychological Services.