Tips for Faculty/Staff - How to Help Students

Some Thoughts About how to Help Students From the Student Counseling Service

HAS THIS HAPPENED TO YOU IN THE CLASSROOM?

Recognize the Problem:

A slight feeling of dread comes over you again. The young man has his hand raised and you know what that means: a long, rambling jumble of words which, for a moment or two, seem to make sense as a question; but when he's finished you will be standing there bewildered, looking at him. You have learned better than to ask him to repeat his question. The repetition takes longer and usually disrupts the class completely. The other students just stare at him when he gets started; a few even laugh and make audible comments while he is speaking. The young man seems untouched by the reactions of his fellow students. He is detached and unaware of how differently he behaves. A few times he has approached you after class. Frankly, you feel a little uneasy and transact your business with him quickly, though you are aware he would have stayed to talk if you had not begun to pick up your books and notes midway in your conversation with him. Yet, you feel he needs help, but you feel uncomfortable about what to do or say.

Have you faced the situation of a student repeatedly asking for special considerations or missing exams, and he or she tells you about personal or academic problems that are making it difficult to function academically? What about the student who seems to be depressed, or makes references about suicide or other personal problems in a writing assignment you have given? These are only a few examples of situations where you probably wonder, "What can I do?" The staff of the Student Counseling Service have some suggestions to help you deal with these types of situations. Please also remember that staff are available for consultation by calling 845-4427.

Talk to the Student:

We suggest that you meet with the student when you have plenty of time and will not be disturbed by others. Though you are probably not a trained counselor or therapist, you may be the only person willing to make the time for personal communication with this student. Of all the professional techniques used by mental health professionals, there is none more important than knowing how to listen; not just hear but understand what this student is saying to you. You already have a pretty good idea that these students are carrying a burden heavier than the other students you know. Their behavior shows unusual stress, or depression, or confusion, or anxiety. If you are willing to step out of your role as professor, teacher, or advisor for a moment and become instead a "learner," you may rather quickly gain admittance to the world of pain, confusion, or stress in which this student is living. Your willingness to listen is the cornerstone of a trusting relationship. Trust may not develop under every circumstance, but if it does, it will be because you gave that student time and space in your life: you listened to him without interruption; you listened to her feelings without judgment; you listened to his thoughts without correcting them; you listened to her just as she is and not as she "ought" to be.


Refer:

If in these types of situations you sense that you are not professionally equipped to give the help needed by this student, you are encouraged to refer him or her to the Student Counseling Service (SCS) in Cain Hall. In recommending that the student see a counselor, it is important to choose the appropriate moment to make your suggestion. Perhaps a second or third contact with the student may be required before enough trust is established to permit you to suggest that the student see a counselor to talk over his or her problems. It helps if you have a positive view of counseling and can share your enthusiasm. Assuming the student agrees to your suggestion, we suggest that you sit with the student while s/he calls to make contact with the SCS or goes online to http://scs.tamu.edu to complete online registration. We like students to make their own calls or register themselves because that keeps them responsible for themselves, but sometimes, such as when a student is very upset, it's best that you make the call. If you make the call, clearly identify yourself as a professor, mentor, advisor, etc. to the SCS Receptionist. S/he will ask you if it is a crisis. The designation of crisis means that the student is in a life or death situation. You may also say that the situation is urgent or that the student can wait for the next available appointment which usually can be scheduled in ten or less days. Every effort will be made to see the student as soon as it's possible to do so, usually within a week of your call. If it is a crisis, the student will be seen that day, or even immediately, if necessary. In that case, you might wish to walk with the student to the SCS in Cain Hall.

If the student shows resistance to seeing a counselor, you might want to suggest that he or she go to the Student Health Service to see a physician. The physicians frequently refer students to the counselors after appropriate medication or other health services are provided. Reassure the student that his/her relationship with staff at either the Student Counseling Service or the Student Health Service is a confidential professional relationship within the limits permitted by the law, and recognizes his or her adult status at 18 years of age. If the student refuses any on-campus referral, then you may suggest that the individual seek help from any of the psychologists, psychiatrists, or psychotherapists listed in the Yellow Pages, or from his or her family physician.

HOW CAN YOU EFFECTIVELY REFER A STUDENT FOR FURTHER HELP?

The following are basic thoughts about the referral process that are essential for persons working in the helping professions, and thus are also very important guidelines for anyone concerned with helping other human beings.

WHEN to Refer

1. When a student presents a problem or a request for information which is beyond your level of competency - refer the student.

2. When you feel that personality differences (which cannot be resolved) between you and the student will interfere with his or her effective progress - refer the student.

3. If the problem is personal and you are uncomfortable discussing it because you know the student too well on another basis (friend, neighbor, grad assistant, etc.) - refer the student.

4. If the student is reluctant to discuss his or her problem with you for some reason - refer the student.

5. If, after a period of time, you do not believe your work and communication with a student has been effective - refer the student.

WHO to Refer to

Knowledge of persons, offices, and agencies that can be of service to you and the student is of primary importance. You'll want to be sure to refer the student to the persons or office that will best serve that student. In addition, referring a student to the office appropriate to the problem demonstrates to the student that you have his or her best interests at heart. It's a negative reflection on the person making a referral to depend on someone else to see to it that "John Jones" eventually gets where he could have been referred originally. We all know how discouraged we get when we are passed along from office to office without a real effort on anyone's part to determine where we can receive the assistance we need. If you are not sure where to refer the student, find out before you send the student. Feel free to call the SCS or the HelpLine for resources or referral information.

HOW to Refer

1. Suggest in a caring, concerned, and forthright manner that the student talk with a trained counselor. Some information about the Student Counseling Service (SCS) that might allay fears about coming here are that:

A. The service is free, (really, it's paid for through the student services fee).

B. Confidentiality, to the limits provided by the law, is respected. Information cannot be released without the student's permission. Examples of exceptions include imminent harm or danger to the student or another, child abuse, and abuse of the elderly.

C. No record of a student's use of the counseling service is made on a transcript, in a job placement file, or in the University computer system.

D. All counseling records are destroyed ten years after the last contact with a student.

2. While it is ordinarily desirable to refer a student to a specific person rather than to an office, we request that you refer to the Department. This ensures that your student will be seen as quickly as possible for the initial or crisis appointment. If you choose to request a particular psychologist, we cannot guarantee that a student will be seen by this person because many staff already have full caseloads—even at the beginning of each semester. Thus, it is important for a crisis or urgent appointment that the receptionist at the SCS be the person called or contacted since she/he knows about counselor availability.

If you consider the situation to be a serious one warranting immediate intervention, please be sure to remind the student to tell the receptionist that this is a crisis situation. The SCS has crisis walk-in service (no appointment needed) available during regular office hours. At your request the receptionist will put your call through to the crisis counselor or an administrator if you want to consult prior to sending/bringing the student to the SCS.

3. In a crisis situation, give the student the telephone number (979-845-4427) and location (757 West Campus Blvd.) of the SCS, or, better yet, give him/her the opportunity to use your phone to call about setting up an appointment. Making his/her own call reinforces the student's sense of responsibility for his/her own welfare which is always very important. Note that initial, non-crisis appointments are scheduled online at http://scs.tamu.edu/.

In the case of a student who is extremely upset, it may be necessary for you to call for him/her or, preferably, to walk with the student to Cain Hall. In these more serious cases, your assistance will tend to give the upset student a sense of security and caring.

4. If you have information about the student that you feel is important to share with the counselor, there are pro's and con's for sharing that information in front of the student. On one hand sharing information in front of the student may give the student the feeling that his or her particular problem is becoming known to everyone on campus. On the other hand the student may feel reassured that s/he has heard what you are saying, and that nothing is being kept from him/her. Use your best judgment based on the situation and the person.

Whenever possible it’s always a good idea to get the student's permission to relate information about him/her to the counselor.

5. When the student has returned from the counseling session, don't "pump" him/her for information. Generally, if you inquire as to whether or not the student has kept the appointment, the student will volunteer whatever information is necessary to continue your relationship.

6. The person making the referral should not expect to be provided with the details of treatment, nor learn about the confidences shared by the student with the counselor. This information is protected by law. However, if the student gives written permission, you may receive specific consultation or information on how best to interact with the student.

This legal limitation should not impede your interactions with the SCS. Always feel free to call us for consultation. Even if it is not possible to share specific information regarding your student with you, a counselor may be able to talk with you in general about how to help students in similar situations. In addition, even if the counselor cannot share information with you, the information you can provide the counselor is often very helpful, and the information you give will be made available to the professional who will be seeing the student.

7. Don't expect the immediate resolution of particular symptoms or problems, nor give this expectation to the student. Changing basic attitudes and feelings, or learning to handle everyday problems, or improving academic performance takes time. It is a process that often moves very slowly.

8. Finally, respect the individual. The basic approach to all counseling and referral is one of fundamental respect for the individual, and the belief that it is best for that person to work out problems in his or her own way. You and the counselor participate in this process by providing a variety of alternatives for assistance on the student's own terms. Your role is to help the student become aware of and access the help that is available. It’s the student’s choice to do so.


Consult:

If you have concerns about a student or you’ve already tried to intervene and nothing seems to work, you may wish to call the Student Counseling Service (979-845-4427) and ask to speak with someone about the student in question. We can consult with you about how to approach the student and offer further options to secure help for the student. We can also share community resources for the student that might provide the types of services that we are unable to provide.

To this point, we have described the actions of a student whose behavior is troublesome, but still within the bounds of tolerable behavior, whose cry for help is evident but s/he is not out of control. In the case of a student whose behavior is more serious or bizarre (intolerably disruptive behavior, unable to communicate clearly, conspicuously suicidal, making homicidal threats, overdosed on drugs, etc.), please refer to the section "WHAT DO YOU DO IN A CRISIS.”


WHAT DO YOU DO IN A CRISIS?

CRISIS SITUATIONS:

If a student is exhibiting behaviors that you feel indicate an IMMEDIATE DANGER TO SELF OR SOMEONE ELSE, (unconscious, overdose or attempted suicide, psychotic, threat of using a weapon, other immediate threat to self or someone else),


CALL 9-911 IF ON-CAMPUS (911 IF YOU ARE OFF-CAMPUS) TO REQUEST IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE AT ANY TIME OF THE DAY OR NIGHT.

In many cases the student will be immediately transported by police to a local emergency room for evaluation and stabilization. A student sent to the emergency room will be evaluated by a physician and a local Mental Health Mental Retardation employee and will not be released until they have determined that the student is no longer an immediate danger to himself/herself or to others.

URGENT SITUATIONS:

For situations that are NOT immediately life-threatening, unlike those described above, send or walk the student to 757 West Campus Blvd. The Student Counseling Service (SCS) has a staff member scheduled to be available to provide immediate consultation to you either in person or by phone (979-845-4427) on weekdays during normal office hours (from 8 AM to 5 PM).

After 5 PM weekdays and on weekends contact the Student Counseling Service HelpLine at 979-845-2700. The HelpLine can assist you by providing consultation or may page a psychologist from the SCS staff as needed and appropriate.

During university holidays such as spring break, and the breaks between semesters, you may call the HelpLine. A recording will instruct you about how to access emergency psychological services. Usually the process is to refer the student to the nearest hospital emergency room or call the Mental Health/Mental Retardation Authority of Brazos Valley at 979-822-6467.

Whether an emergency occurs during regular SCS office hours, after hours, or on weekends, if you are ever in doubt about calling for assistance, call to consult with us.