Faculty and staff are in unique positions to help students in distress. During teaching or advising, you may encounter students who have learning or psychological problems or show signs of distress. Many students may view you as a compassionate and respectful listener and seek you out for assistance with crisis situations or adjustment difficulties.
These pages will make you aware of the Counseling Center’s services and help you decide when to assist students yourself and when to refer a student to the Counseling Center for counseling or support.
Counseling Center Services for Faculty and Staff
The Counseling Center assists faculty and staff in a variety of ways. You may have difficulty with a problematic student, or feel concerned about a distressed student. You might wonder how to support a student who confides in you about personal issues. Maybe you would like someone from the Counseling Center to talk with your class about a counseling-related topic. You might even be seeking help yourself. The Counseling Center can help you in the following ways:
The Counseling Center provides consulting services to the university community. We are glad to answer any questions that you may have about services, students, or referral options. We will route your call to the counselor on call, and, if that counselor is not immediately available, the secretary will take your number and the counselor will return your call within the day. Feel free to call and talk about your concerns regarding a student and, if indicated, ways to make an effective referral to the Counseling Center.
Because of the Counseling Center staff’s diverse interests, they offer programming and classroom presentations on a range of issues. Contact the Counseling Center at 919-515-2423 to request a program or lecture.
Counseling Services for Faculty
The Counseling Center does not offer counseling services to faculty or staff. However, we maintain a comprehensive database of therapists in the Triangle. We can help you identify a therapist who is skilled in a certain area or accepts your medical insurance. Feel free to call us at 919-515-2423 and ask to speak to the counselor-on-call.
We treat all of our contacts with students confidentially and in accord with the state of North Carolina mental health code. We cannot tell anyone, inside or outside of the university, that a student is receiving counseling services, nor can we discuss the context of the services unless a student authorizes the release of his or her protected health information (PHI) in writing.
Sometimes the faculty or staff member who made the referral will call to follow up. North Carolina law prohibits us from telling you whether the student has made an appointment without his or her written authorization. If you are concerned about the student, contact him or her directly to ask if he or she has followed through with the referral. We could only release information without a student’s written consent if there were imminent danger either to the student or to others, child or elderly abuse, or a duly issued subpoena. Such occasions are rare.
The Counseling Center’s Role in Academics
Students’ problems often have a negative impact on academic work. Students may come to faculty with involved tales of interpersonal or family difficulties, hoping that by eliciting sympathy they will obtain incompletes or extensions from faculty. A student may have approached you after missing a test or provided you with a letter from a counselor at the Counseling Center explaining that the student has experienced difficulties which have affected the student’s academics. In order to spare faculty members from having to separate legitimate excuses from manipulative excuses, the Counseling Center will meet with the student and then make a recommendation to you.
Occasionally students will tell you they have a learning or psychological disability and request special academic accommodations. In these circumstances a referral to the Disability Services Office 919-515-7653 or (TTY) 919-515-8830 would be appropriate. The Disability Services Office will make specific recommendations regarding reasonable academic accommodations.
When students are distressed, counselors not only support them but also document the issue for faculty and staff. This allows the student to have privacy regarding personal or medical concerns. It also allows faculty or staff members to focus on the student’s academic performance while the student receives the support he or she needs from health professionals. In sum, we will indicate to you whether there is enough evidence to warrant deviation from the rules. According to federal law, we must maintain client confidentiality. Therefore, we may not be able to share specific details about the student’s situation with you.
Referring Students to the Counseling Center
Circumstances Warranting Referral
Though you may be genuinely concerned about interested in helping students, there may be times you need to refer them to other resources. You might want to refer a student to the Counseling Center if…
…the student’s problem is more serious than you feel comfortable handling.
…you are extremely busy or stressed and are therefore unable to help.
…you have talked to the student and helped as much as you can, but she or he needs further assistance.
…you think your personal feelings about the student will interfere with your objectivity.
…the student admits that there is a problem, but doesn’t want to talk to you about it.
…the student asks for information or assistance that you are unable to provide.
Let the student know why you make a referral (e.g., lack of time, conflict of interest, limited training) and emphasize that the student should get help from an appropriate source. It may help the student to know that you support his or her desire to seek help.
If the situation is not urgent, we recommend that a student comes to the Counseling Center to schedule his or her first appointment. If faculty or staff call the Counseling Center in a crisis situation, someone will talk with them immediately. We may come to the scene or we may determine that Campus Police should respond. From that point on, the Counseling Center and/or the Campus Police handle crises exclusively. Once students have dealt with us, they are our clients, and we are bound by confidentiality regarding our conversations with them. We may fill you in on limited details only with the student’s written authorization.
What the Student Can Expect
Some students avoid going to the Counseling Center because they don’t know what to expect. Upon arrival, we ask all students to provide basic information on an intake form. We keep this form in the student’s confidential file. Many students wonder if counseling appointments or information will somehow end up on their “permanent record.” Counseling appointments will not appear on students’ permanent records. All sessions are free, private, and confidential. Only with the student’s written authorization are we free to share information with anyone.
A student meets with a Counseling Center staff member for about an hour. Some emergencies require more time, and we do our best to give students all the time they need.
A student usually sees whomever has the first available appointment. However, a student may request to speak with a specific member of the staff. During busy times, however, a student might have to wait to speak to the requested staff member.
During the first session, the counselor ascertains the student’s problem. The staff member will determine if counseling is the best approach to the problem and explain the counseling process. The counselor then asks the student if she or he wishes to make another appointment or would like a referral to another person or agency.
Follow Up with the Student
Let the student know that you would like to hear how the Counseling Center appointment goes. Assure the student that this is entirely voluntary on their part. Ask permission to contact the student within a week and see if the referral went well.
Helping the Reluctant Student
Many people believe that only very disturbed people seek counseling, so a student might interpret your referral as a comment on the severity of his or her problem. Help the student understand that therapists at the Counseling Center work with people with a wide range of concerns. Problems need not reach crisis proportions for students to benefit from professional help. In fact, it is much easier to work on problems if they are addressed before they reach crisis level. Reluctant students might also be relieved to know that they can speak with a therapist on a one-time basis without committing to ongoing therapy. Normalizing the process of seeking help may be especially helpful for international students whose countries may have different views of psychological counseling.
Neither any contact the student has with the Counseling Center nor information she or he shares with the Counseling Center will be disclosed to parents, faculty, other university departments, except with the student’s written authorization. Finally, it is important to acknowledge, validate and discuss the student’s real fears and concerns about seeking help. It takes considerable courage to face oneself and acknowledge one’s limitations. In some cases, you may find that the student has already sought counseling services at the Counseling Center or elsewhere and was unsatisfied with the experience. There are many reasons why counseling may not be successful in a given situation. Please encourage the student to consider giving counseling another try, perhaps with a different counselor.
While it is important to care about the emotional well-being of students, they must make their own decisions, and counseling is always a personal choice. Occasionally even your best efforts to encourage a student to seek counseling will be unsuccessful. If the student resists referral and you remain uncomfortable with the situation, contact Counseling Center at 515-2423 to discuss your concern.
Helping the Distressed Student
If you know a student in distress – whether a student in your class, a roommate, teammate, or friend – you may be able to help. The following information assist you to be a good helper.
Common Causes of Distress
- Family problems or other interpersonal difficulties such as conflicts, illness, divorce, abuse or grief.
- Problems with a romantic partner or spouse such as sexual problems, communication problems, abuse, or coping with a partner in distress.
- Financial difficulties such as providing for dependents or economic hardship in family or country of origin.
- Significant changes in circumstance such as adjusting to a new place, new people, and/or a new life situation.
- Academic or work difficulties such as trouble getting to work or class, poor grades or performance reviews, over-placement, or interpersonal conflicts with authorities or peers.
- Performance anxiety.
- Depression, grief, loss or trauma.
- Problems with alcohol or drugs.
Common Signs or Symptoms of Distress
- Significant changes in eating, sleeping, grooming, spending, or other daily activities
- Significant changes in performance or involvement in academics, sports, extracurricular or social activities
- Acting withdrawn, volatile, or odd
- Crying excessively
- Acting out of character
- Talking explicitly about hopelessness or suicide
- Difficulty concentrating or carrying on normal conversation
- Depending excessively on others for company or support
- Feeling out of control of emotions, thoughts, or behaviors
How to Help Someone Get Help
Express your concern for the person in terms of his or her worries or needs.
For example, you might say: “I often hear you mention your worries about X, and I think that’s something you are right to be concerned about,” or, “It seems from our recent conversations that this is something you really need to talk about,” or, “When you mention that you are thinking of suicide, I know it concerns you and it concerns me, too.”
Let the person how he or she will benefit from meeting with a counselor.
For example, you might say, “I think you would 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 counselor about. A counselor will know more about this than either one of us,” or, “You and I just don’t have enough time together to address these concerns the way they deserve, and I think you’d benefit from talking them over with someone in greater depth.”
Avoid labeling the student or his or her behavior.
Don’t say something like, “You’re depressed,” or “You have an eating disorder,” or “You should be in therapy.” Labeling, whether accurate or inaccurate, can frighten the student or him or her from getting help. Remember that different families and cultures have different ways of expressing their distress; what looks strange to you may be “normal” for the other person.
Reassure the student that making a referral isn’t a rejection.
For example, you might say, “Even though you will be talking with your counselor about this, 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 counselor goes — you don’t have to tell me details, but I’d like to know that you’ve found someone helpful to speak with.”
Offer to keep the student company while he or she calls for an appointment, or to call on the student’s behalf. Offer to come with the student to their first appointment. Direct the student to the Counseling Center website, where he or she can learn more before making an appointment. Let the student know what to expect if he or she comes to talk with a counselor.
Follow up with the student.
Ask the student to let you know how his or her counseling appointment went. Remember that the student’s contact with the Counseling Center is confidential, so the student’s counselor will not be able to give you any information without the student’s written authorization. If you hear that the student’s appointment with a counselor wasn’t helpful, invite the student to make an appointment with a different counselor, or to bring concerns to Director’s attention.
If a student talks about suicide or violence or harms him or herself or others…
Do not ignore a student’s comments or behavior regarding suicide or violence. Do not assume that the student is only kidding or seeks attention. If you are not comfortable addressing the student, or if you feel the student is not responding, approach your dean, your Residence Area Director, a Counseling Center counselor or Campus Police.
Similarly, do not assume that all a student needs is your sympathy and support. Students who are unable to control their feelings or impulses may also require counseling and/or medication.
If you are not sure what to do…
If you wonder whether or how to bring up the issue of a referral with a distressed student, or you have already suggested it but the student is not responding, please call and consult confidentially with a Counseling Center counselor, 919-515-2423.
Being a Good Helper
Monitor your own reactions and feelings.
It can be stressful to interact with someone in distress. In addition to your desire to help, you may feel helpless, afraid, frustrated, angry, empathetic, or impatient. Helpers need support, too! Call the Counseling Center at 919-515-2423 to arrange a confidential consultation with a counselor.
Recognize your limits.
It is not your responsibility to solve the problem for the other person, but rather to try to help them solve it or help them get help. Remember that although you may be a special and irreplaceable helper, others may be able to help in ways you cannot.
Don’t promise someone in distress to keep a secret. It is not unusual for someone in distress to be concerned about privacy and self-control. He or she may ask you to promise to keep what they tell you a secret. If you agree to such a promise, you may put yourself in a terrible dilemma because in order to seek out essential – perhaps life-saving – support for you or the student, you will have to betray that promise. Let the student know that you are trustworthy and won’t divulge a confidence unless you have no other choice.
If he or she wants to share something very personal with you, try your best to keep his or her confidence. Let him or her know that you won’t divulge their secret to anyone without talking it over with him or her first. Promise him or her that you value their confidence in you and won’t use anything they tell you to hurt them. However, avoid absolute promises to keep secrets.
Be aware that your help may either positively or negatively enable a distressed student. Positive enabling happens when you respect a student’s views and struggles, while working to help the student solve their problems and get the help they need. Negative enabling happens when you allow or accept a student’s problematic perceptions or behaviors without questioning them, and the student doesn’t get the help she or he needs. Your efforts either may not change the student’s perspective or result in the student getting help. However negative enabling will almost certainly prolong the student’s difficulties. Here are some examples of negative enabling and positive enabling:
The student repeatedly minimizes a serious problem. For example, the student might say, “It’s really no big deal,” or, “It’s none of your business,” or, “I don’t want to bother anyone with this. Other people have much bigger problems.”
Agreeing or being silent allows the student to avoid dealing with a significant problem.
You might say something like, “I understand you don’t think it’s a big deal, but I want you to know I think it’s a big deal. If you ever want to talk about it, I’ll try to help you out,” or, “Sometimes it helps to talk with a counselor even about ‘small deals.’ If you want to make an appointment, I’ll walk over there with you “ or, “It’s my business only in that I care about you and hate to see you in distress. I know it’s not my problem, but if it would help to talk things out, let’s go out for a cup of coffee.”
A distressed student wants to vent to you repeatedly about a problem, but the student will not seek more appropriate help. For example, a student may consistently say, “I can’t talk with anyone else, you’re the only one I trust,” or “Tell me what to do,” or, “I don’t want to go to sleep or be alone, I just want you to stay here with me.”
Agreeing or being silent allows the student to depend on you instead of relying upon him or herself.
You might say something like, “I’m glad you trust me, because I want to help. That’s why I am telling you we need to consult with a counselor to help you figure out what to do,” or, “It seems like this issue really deserves the time you are devoting to it, but I can’t stay up any later talking with you or I’ll fall asleep in class tomorrow. Why don’t you switch to writing in your journal now, and I’ll meet you tomorrow for breakfast,” or, “The strong feelings you are experiencing are all indications of how important an issue this is for you. I think a consultation with a counselor will help you cope with it all. Shall we call and make an appointment?”
A distressed student repeatedly lies, fails, or hurts someone (including you) because he or she feels pain. The student might say something like, “I can’t help it, I’m so angry,” or, “I was drunk, that’s all, it didn’t mean anything,” or, “I know I said I’d be there, but I was too hung over to move.”
Agreeing or being silent allows the student to act out his or her distress rather than confronting it.
You might positively enable a student by saying something like, “I want you to know that what you did was hurtful in ways I don’t think you really intended. If you are getting so angry that you can’t keep from behaving in hurtful ways, it’s time for you to call for some help,” or, “As your friend, I need to tell you that what you did frightened me and made me concerned about how you’re doing. Can we talk about it?”
A distressed student blackmails you. For example, a student might say, “I won’t tell you unless you promise,” or “If you were my friend you’d lie for me,” or “I’ll never speak to you again if you don’t do X.”
Agreeing or being silent allows the student to manipulate your goodwill in ways that don’t ultimately help you or the student.
You might say something like, “As your friend I am telling you I won’t lie for you, but I’ll stand by you while you face this,” or, “I value our friendship and I want to be a good friend to you. Can we find a creative alternative? How about if I keep you company while you…”