Helping a Student Get Help

During the course of your work or life at the university, you may encounter students who are in emotional distress or academic trouble. You may also encounter students who are doing just fine, and yet might benefit from additional support or opportunities for self-development. In either case, you are welcome to consult with a Well-Being Center clinician regarding how to understand a student's unique situation or how to refer the student to counseling. Because interactions with Well-Being Center clinicians are confidential, information regarding a student's contact will not be shared with others, including friends, faculty, or family, except with the student's explicit permission. A concerned party's interaction with a Well-Being Center clinician about the welfare of a student is similarly confidential.

The Well-Being Center staff includes psychologists with extensive experience in psychological assessment and treatment, adolescent and young-adult development, and educational psychology. The counseling staff also includes graduate trainees in clinical and counseling psychology. Clinicians provide direct support for students through individual appointments, discussion/support groups, workshops and other programs. In addition, clinicians provide support to the university community by means of consultations and information regarding issues such as students' psychological development and well-being, crisis intervention, student motivation and performance, and teacher-student or advisor-student relationships.

Situations in which a consultation or referral would be appropriate:

  • A student behaves in class, activities, or personal interactions in ways which you find disturbing, or other students come to you with concerns about the student.
  • A student talks/writes explicitly about hopelessness or suicide, or talks/writes about personal problems or emotional experiences.
  • You notice yourself feeling angry, helpless, mystified, or frightened with regard to a student.
  • You believe a student may be having a hard time academically or personally because of adjustment factors related to language, culture, or personal development.
  • A student lets you know that they have a psychological disability or disorder, and you are unsure how to respond.
  • You would like to incorporate information related to student development or well-being into your course or program materials or activities.

Sometimes, it is difficult to determine whether a student's problems are primarily psychological or academic, or both. For or example, when the student is missing classes or appointments, not performing as well on exams as in class or on papers, or is distracted in class. In such situations, please feel free to consult with a counselor in either the Academic Support and Access Center (x3360) or the Well-Being Center (x3500), or refer a student to either service.

When making a referral to the Well-Being Center:

Share your concern.

Let the student know why you are concerned about them. Cite your observations about the student's own concerns or behaviors (e.g., "I often hear you mention your worries about X," or "I can tell from our recent conversations that this is worrying you and that you need to talk about it," or "When you mention that you are thinking of suicide, that concerns me and I know it concerns you too").

Avoid labeling the student or their behavior (e.g., don't say "I think you're depressed," or "This isn't normal," or "You need therapy").

Let the student know what you believe they will gain from meeting with a clinician (e.g., "I think you will find it very helpful to discuss all this with someone impartial, someone who can help you sort out your thoughts and feelings," or "This is just the thing to consult with a therapist about -- a therapist will know more about this than I do," or "You and I just don't have enough time together to address these concerns the way they deserve, and I think you'd get a lot out of being able to talk them over with someone at greater length.").

Reassure the student that making a referral isn't a rejection (e.g., you might say "Even though you will be talking with your therapist about X, I want us to keep in touch about how things are going for you," or "Come back and let me know how your meeting with the therapist goes -- you don't have to tell me details, but I'd like to know that you've found someone to speak with.").

Offer to sit with the student as they call the Well-Being Center to make the appointment, in your company.

If you think it would be helpful for the student to learn more before making an appointment, you may refer the student to our website, which has information about all our services, videos about our services, as well as links to helpful websites on a variety of topics.

If you are wondering whether or how to bring the issue of a referral up to the student, feel free to call and consult with a clinician about it.

Let the student know what to expect.

Let the student know that clinicians are here to help all AU students make the most of their university experience. Be respectful of the student's cultural assumptions about what it means to speak with a therapist, while assuring them that you believe consulting with an AU clinician is not only acceptable but may be a very wise decision on their part.

A student can either call or stop by the Well-Being Center to make an initial consultation which can usually be scheduled within a few days. The student will have a chance to discuss with the clinician the situation or feelings that are troubling the student, and what sort of further assistance the student might find helpful. The clinician and student will work together to locate whatever support the student needs, whether on or off campus, a brief consultation, ongoing counseling, a specialized treatment program, a support group, psychiatric medication, etc. A student never has to wait to speak with a clinician. If in crisis, we recommend first calling AU ProtoCall services at 202-885-7979 for support.

All client discussions and records at the Well-Being Center are confidential (for more information on the ethical and legal nature and limits of confidentiality, call the Well-Being Center at x3500).

Follow up.

Ask the student to follow up with you and let you know how it goes. Tell the student you don't need to know the details, but you would like to hear whether they had an appointment and whether it was helpful.

Remember that the student's contact with the Well-Being Center is confidential, so the student's clinician will not be able to give you any information without the students' explicit permission.

If you hear that the student had an appointment with a clinician but that it wasn't helpful, you could suggest that the student make another appointment with a different clinician. If you hear of other complaints about the service, please encourage the student to bring them to the attention of the Director of the Well-Being Center, or to allow you to do so on the student's behalf.