The “Troubled” (Distressed) Student:

  • Problems are primarily “internal” and impede student’s own adjustment to university environment and their academic achievement.
  • May exhibit some patterns of behavior that are outside the bounds of accepted norms.
  • May show tendency to withdraw, or to set self in opposition to others.
  • May or may not verbalize problems to you. Problems may manifest themselves in written work or non-verbal behavior. In some cases, written work may have disturbing, suicidal or homicidal content.

Possible Interventions with the “Troubled” Student:

  • Always take statements of suicidal or homicidal intent seriously--get consultation immediately. Even if it seems like a “bid for attention,” or “just a cry for help.”
  • Speak with the student, acknowledge any “cry for help” (if appropriate) and express your concerns.
  • Avoid confusing your role of instructor with the role of therapist. The student’s issues might take you into areas beyond your comfort and expertise, and could be seen by other students as compromising your objectivity in your role as an “evaluator.”
  • Realize that sometimes expression (written, class discussion) of shocking, graphic or bizarre thoughts can be:
    • intended to emotionally shock you.
    • an expression of students’ culture (e.g., dark, depressing thoughts may be seen as “cool,” or “deep”)
    • intended to camouflage academic deficiencies, or be an excuse for not fulfilling an assignment.
    • Counseling Services psychologists are available to consult with you and sort this out. 
  • Consult with Counseling Services staff about how to proceed. In emergencies, this may include CS staff coming to your office. Counseling Services staff would be available to look over disturbing written material, on a confidential basis.
  • Refer the student to Counseling Services, or encourage them to contact their current or past therapist/psychiatrist (if the student offers this information.)
  • Consult with Disability Access Services (if you have received an accommodations letter on a student) regarding the specifics of what you are required to provide for a student with an “invisible” disability.

The “Troubling” (Disruptive) Student:

  • Outward behavior is problematic--causes disruption in the classroom and/or campus environment.
  • May exhibit immature or manipulative behavior.
  • Behavior has not improved satisfactorily, even with reminders and routine intervention.
  • Tends to be unable to improve with learning/experience.
  • Does not show clear signs of serious psychological disturbance (although difficulties may be of psychological nature.)

Possible Interventions with the “Troubling” student:

  • When there is immediate physical threat, call University Police! (516-5155)
  • Inform the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs (516-5211) and/or the University Police if a student is exhibiting behavior that worries you.
  • When physical violence seems possible, but not immediate, develop a safety plan for yourself and your students.
  • When possible, it’s best to talk privately to the student about the behavior.
  • Discuss with colleague, chair, Dean.
  • Review “Tips For Dealing With Disruptive Students” (Counseling Services).
  • Get to know the Student Conduct Code for students’ responsibilities and consequences of disruptive behavior.
  • Consult with Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs (for violations of Student Conduct Code), 516-5211

The “Troubled and Troubling” (Combination) Student

  • Demonstrates behaviors that are a problem both for self and others.
  • Both patterns warrant assessment and intervention.

Possible Interventions with the Combination student:

  • Ruling out psychopathology (with the aid of Counseling Services staff or external evaluation) is a helpful first step. For some students, taking or getting back on appropriate and adequate medication (referral back to psychiatrist) can lead to surprisingly rapid amelioration of disruptive behavior.
  • All interventions above, from both “Troubled” and “Troubling” students.

Adapted from the work of Ursula Delworth- "Dealing With the Behavioral and Psychological Problems of Students” (New Directions for Student Services, No 45).