How to Refer to Counseling Services

Guidelines for Helpful Interactions

Once you identify a student who is experiencing a pattern of the above symptoms, you must decide whether or not to confront that student. Whether you are a faculty/staff member or a parent, if you do choose to speak with the student, the following are some guidelines for your interaction:

  • Talk to the student in private.
  • Express your concern for the student in a direct, straightforward manner, focusing on the specific behaviors which are causing your concern.
  • Listen carefully, asking open-ended questions; avoid criticizing or sounding judgmental.
  • Try not to make agreements or bargains with the student that isolate you in dealing with the problem (e.g., promising to keep what they have said a secret).
  • If appropriate, discuss a possible referral to Counseling Services. Our services are confidential and for all registered students.
  • Remember that the student has the right to accept, think over, or refuse your recommendations.
  • If the student resists help and you are still concerned, it may be helpful for you to consult with a Counseling Services professional staff member; call our office at 585-245-5716 to request a consultation.
  • In a crisis, it is most important to remain calm and to make sure the student is safe.
  • For more information about helping a student with specific issues, visit our Helping Others page.


3 Important Things to Remember When Referring to Counseling Services:

1)  Encourage the student to call Counseling Services at 585-245-5716 to schedule an appointment.  Wait time for an initial MEETing appointment is usually within 1-2 weeks, although a counselor can arrange for a same-day/more immediate appointments in crisis situations.  NOTE:  Although you may place the call to our office while the student is with you, the student will need to schedule his/her own appointment.

2)  In the case of a mental health crisis which occurs during business hours, call 585-245-5716 and let our secretary know that you need assistance with a crisis situation; our secretary will then connect with our counselor on call or have that counselor get back to you as soon as possible. For information on how to respond to crises which occur outside of business hours, go to the Health & Counseling Emergency Information page.

3)  If you are concerned about a student but are uncertain about the appropriateness of a referral, feel free to call Counseling Services and speak with a member of our professional staff.


What to Do if a Student is Reluctant to Seek Help

While it is important to care about the emotional well being of students, we cannot make their decisions for them, and counseling is always a personal choice. Nevertheless, you can assist a student who is ambivalent about seeking professional help in a number of ways.

  • Normalize the process of pursuing counseling. This may be especially helpful for students whose cultural backgrounds may include differing views of mental health treatment.
  • Reassure the student that you do not view him or her as "crazy."
  • Let the student know that no problem is too big or too small for treatment.
  • Inform the student that he or she can make an appointment to speak to a counselor once without making a commitment to ongoing therapy.
  • Remind the student that any information shared during counseling sessions is kept strictly confidential and will not be disclosed to parents, faculty, or other college departments without the student's written permission.
  • Acknowledge, validate, and discuss the student's real fears and concerns about seeking help. Some students may feel that counseling is an admission of weakness or failure; we tell students that it takes considerable courage and integrity to face oneself, acknowledge one's limitations, and admit the desire or need for assistance.
  • Suggest that the student visit our web site as a means to become familiar with the services we offer prior to seeking treatment. The student may be willing to take an anonymous screening for depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or alcohol use via our Online Screening Program.
  • If the student doesn't want to meet with a counselor individually but is open to other ideas, you can suggest that the student attend one or more of our Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds program through GOLD.
  • If for some reason the student would prefer to seek therapy off-campus, you can refer the student to our Off-Campus Referral Resources page.
  • Consult with us! We are happy to help YOU problem-solve about how to help.


Additional Information

Penn State's Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) web site offers an excellent online workshop for recognizing students in distress; the workshop includes video role plays of student-professor interactions to assist you with this process. To learn more about the workshop, click here to go to CAPS.

If you are looking for more general guidelines regarding how to handle potentially difficult classroom situations, visit this excellent page from Hobart and William Smith Colleges on Managing Emotional Discussions.

Finally, you may also want to consider adding a mental health statement to your syllabi.  For more information, view our Faculty Guidelines for Mental Health Statement on Syllabi.