Talking with a Student
If the student is exhibiting bizarre or disturbing behavior or is intimidating you or others, see Psychological/Behavioral Emergencies.
If the situation is less severe, you think the student might be open to discussing their concerns with you, and you are comfortable and willing to do this:
- Let the student know that you've noticed that he or she has been having difficulty lately. Give specific examples, such as "You've been crying," or "You're no longer participating in class."
- Ask if the student would like to talk with you about it.
Respond to those students who disclose their personal concerns to you by:
- Listening. Empathize with the student's feelings. Be as genuinely supportive and nonjudgmental as feels appropriate to you.
- Keeping your own limits in mind. Don't get more involved in the student's life than is comfortable or appropriate for you (e.g., length of the conversations, when and where they take place, how much is expected of you).
- Making sure you and the student are safe. Be sure someone knows when and where you are meeting with a student and when you will be finished. Have a phone handy for emergencies. Do not position the student between yourself and the door. Never meet in an isolated place.
- Referring to the Wellness Center. For students who seem to need more than you are able or willing to provide, or if professional counseling seems indicated, suggest that a mental health professional at the Wellness Center might be helpful and that these professionals are available to provide confidential help to students dealing with problems or concerns like theirs. Tell the student that s/he may set up an appointment with a mental health professional by going to the Wellness Center (6439 N. Sheridan Rd, Suite 310), by phone (773-508-2530), or online.
- Offering additional resources to the student. Have a copy of resources ready to hand to the student.
What about students who need counseling but won't go? If it seems clear that a student might benefit from counseling, but is reluctant to go, you might mention any of the following that seem appropriate for that student:
- The student might try one session to see how it seems.
- The visit will be kept confidential, except in an emergency or current child abuse.
- All the student has to do to get an appointment is go to the Wellness Center or call for an appointment. The student could even make an appointment online.
- Students with very troubling concerns often get help at the Wellness Center.
- A person doesn't have to be seriously disturbed to use the services of the Wellness Center.
- The Wellness Center will make referrals to counselors and agencies in the community if the student prefers to go outside for counseling.
- Using counseling services doesn't mean a person is weak for not handling their problems on their own, but often means they are wise for utilizing an available resource.
- Hand a list of resources to the student that they can consider on their own.
- Follow up with the student to give him/her another opportunity to talk.
Remember that except in certain life-threatening situations, the choice of whether or not to seek professional help is up to the troubled person. If a troubled student remains adamant about not seeking counseling, you need to accept the student's decision. This does not mean, however, that a student may behave inappropriately toward you or that you need to accept that behavior.
If you are quite concerned about such a student, you may seek assistance directly from the CURA Network, led by the Office of the Dean of Students (DOS), which provides support, coordination, case management, and resource referrals for student concerns across the university. The Dean of Students will review the situation and take appropriate steps. Or you may consult with the mental health professionals at the Wellness Center. They can suggest alternative ways of approaching the student to help you more effectively intervene on the student's behalf. For more information on responding to disturbing, inappropriate, or disruptive behavior, please see Behavioral Concerns Team.
Consult With the Wellness Center
While it is important to respect the student's privacy, there are times when it is appropriate and necessary to discuss a troubled student with others who might be helpful. The mental health professionals at the Wellness Center are available to you for consultation purposes regarding distressed students who have come to you for assistance. To consult with a Wellness Center mental health professional during business hours, call 773-508-2530 and ask to be connected to the mental health professional on coverage. You may also be asked to contact the Behavioral Concerns Team or can email BCT at email@example.com.
If you have made a referral to the Wellness Center, it is understandable that you might want to follow-up to see how the student is doing. Because of the importance of a student's right to privacy, professional standards of confidentiality and privileged communication laws bind the mental health professionals at the Wellness Center to strict confidentiality including whether a student kept an appointment or is being seen at the Center. However, if a student wishes that a mental health professional talk with you, the student must ask to sign a release of information form.