Even though you may be genuinely concerned about students, and interested in helping them, you may find yourself in situations where it would be better to refer them to other resources. Circumstances that might necessitate a referral include:
- the problem is more serious than you feel comfortable handling;
- you are either extremely busy, or are experiencing stress in your own life;
- you have talked to the student and helped as much as you can, but further assistance is needed;
- 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.
Some students may resist the idea of seeking professional help. Even though you may think it important that they meet with a professional, you cannot force them, nor should you trick them. Usually, you will get the best results by being honest and straightforward. Let the student know your reasons for making a referral (e.g., lack of time, conflict of interest, limited training), and emphasize your concern that they do get help from an appropriate source.
Reassure the student that counselors work with people who have a wide range of concerns, from roommate or relationship problems; depression or anxiety; concentration or academic struggles, sexuality or identity confusion. It also may help them to know that they don't have to be able to pinpoint what's wrong before they seek assistance. For example, a student may feel down or nervous most of the time, but not know why; or a normally calm student may begin to overreact to any frustration encountered.
The referral you make will depend on the type of problem and the levels listed above. If it seems to be minor and is not adversely affecting the student (level 1), you may suggest that he or she talk to friends, family, a resident assistant or clergy. When the problem is more serious, (levels 2 or 3), it probably would be more appropriate to refer the student to the UCS. Share whatever information you have about the UCS and its staff so that fear of the unknown does not keep the student from utilizing it. For example, providing information such as location, phone number, staff names or office hours can be helpful. You can refer students to our website.
If possible, call the UCS/CBH and ask to speak to a UCS consultant. Our receptionists will assist you and gather some basis information before connecting you to one of our consultants.
The staff of the UCS/CBH will do all that they can to assist you and the student but please know that there are legal and ethical conditions that can prevent us from disclosing specific information to you. We can not release information regarding a student without the consent of the student.
(Adapted with permission from The University of Washington Student Counseling Center)