Referring a Student

When to Refer

For many students, college provides not only a rich opportunity for intellectual growth but also a time for emotional development too. Research suggests that emotional intelligence is as crucial to success as more conventionally defined forms of intelligence.

However, many students enter the university with significant personal and psychological challenges. Counseling centers have been concerned by the increasing levels of emotional distress observed in students in recent decades. More students appear to be struggling with serious issues that undermine their well-being and threaten their education, such as bipolar disorder, suicidal and homicidal ideation, obsessive compulsive disorder, and major depression. 

Many other students struggle to keep up with school while coping with issues such as eating disorders, the loss of a parent or loved one, an abusive relationship, a learning disability, social anxiety, or alcohol or marijuana abuse. If a student is falling behind in your class, consider the possibility that they may be struggling with one or more of these concerns. While this does not excuse them from meeting academic expectations, your patient and helpful intervention might make a big difference to their emotional well-being and academic success. In some cases, your student might benefit from a referral for professional help.

Setting the Stage for Referral

If you plan to meet with a student to discuss issues that concern you, first set the stage:

  • Talk to the student in private—e.g., your office.
  • Remove distractions like cell phones
  • Do not promise confidentiality until you know what the student has to share. For instance, if the student is at risk for suicide, you will likely need to involve others.

If a student confides in you a problem that can be addressed by professional counseling, consider making a referral. Such issues might include depression, anxiety or panic, sleep disorder, learning disability, bereavement, or the end of a relationship. Be aware that men as a whole tend to under-report their emotional concerns and may express depression via conflict, declining work habits, physical complaints, and increased substance use.

You can facilitate a referral by employing the following communication skills:

  • Careful listening and genuine interest go a long way
  • Use empathic reflection to let the other person know that you understand and care. This is often key to breaking through the sense of isolation that a student may feel. For example, “It must have felt like the world crashed around you when they broke up with you” or “Your recent illness has really taken the wind out of your sails.”
  • Normalize help seeking by saying things like, “That’s what Counseling Services is for . . . they see a lot of students who are struggling with ________ . . . I’ve sent other students there, and they’ve had good results.”

Making the Referral

For most students, you can simply give them the Counseling Services number 541-346-3227 or direct them to the front desk on the second floor of the University Health Services Building.

If you think a student is at high risk for suicide or are concerned about their motivation to follow through with a referral, then it’s best to accompany them to Counseling Services.

What Happens to Students When They Come to Counseling Services?

The best way students can initiate counseling services by dropping in. They will be seen by a therapist after completing some paperwork. Therapist will listen and provide support, but can also equip students with coping strategies. Therapists will also work with students to come up with a plans for next steps that meet the needs of each individual student. 

Students in Crisis

If you are with a student in crisis, please call us and we will make arrangements to see them. Often it is helpful if you can accompnay them to Counseling Services. During the session, the therapist will provide support while gathering information in order to assess the student’s needs and decide on the best course of action. Typically, this meeting will last 30–45 minutes. If a student is in crisis, then the focus will also be to reinforce coping strategies, build support, reduce risk factors, help to assure the student’s safety, and otherwise attend to their immediate psychological needs.

One size never fits all, and treatment is tailored to what a student needs and prefers. Depending upon a student’s risk, needs, resources, and desires, professional staff will:

  • Arrange to follow-up for crisis management sessions
  • Engage them in individual or group therapy on campus or in the community
  • Refer them to other campus resources
  • Collaborate with University Health Services medical staff to provide medication as needed

Will I Hear What Happened to a Student I Referred?

Naturally, you are invested in the student you refer and you would like to know that their needs are being met. Since psychological services are confidential by law, however, we are not able to share any information with you, unless the student requests this and signs a specific release of information. Exceptions are when a student is a threat to themself or others and we need to inform others to protect them or the student. Please be aware also that our staff are bound by ethical guidelines around confidentiality and any sharing of information, even with a release of information, must be in the student’s best interest.

Ideally, the student would tell you directly about the outcome of your referral. We encourage you to follow up with the student after you’ve made a referral. Depending on your relationship with the student, they may tell you whether they were seen and more or less about the outcome of their meeting.

If in Doubt, Please Feel Free to Consult

If you need guidance about whether or how to intervene with a student, Counseling Services professional therapists are available for consultation. Call 541-346-3227 and ask to speak with a therapist regarding a concern you have about a student. The front desk staff will put you in touch with a therapist or will have someone call you back at the earliest convenience.

Through the care and commitment of the entire campus, we can help students transform life’s challenges into learning experiences. With your genuine support and, if needed, professional help, most students are able to weather their crises and go on to attain personal fulfillment and academic success.