Helping and Referring the Distressed Student:

As a member of the UMSL faculty or staff, you will at times encounter students who are in psychological distress. In many cases, you will be able to serve as a valuable resource in meeting these students' needs. However, there may be occasions when you will want to refer a student to a professional counselor for assistance. Counseling Services is prepared to consult with you about ways to help a student in distress, or to assist you in making an appropriate referral.

When to Refer a Student:

  1. If you feel overwhelmed or burdened by the student and/or the student's problem.
  2. If you have had contact with the student on several occasions and it appears that the student is 'stuck,' and unable to find a way to feel better or to change things in their life.
  3. If the student has experienced a number of problems or symptoms over an extended period of time.
  4. If you are concerned that the student is self-destructive, suicidal, dangerous to others, severely depressed, or out of contact with reality.
  5. Any other reason that you think a mental health professional can be of help.
  6. Some of the specific issues for which counseling may be helpful for include:
  • interpersonal/social problems
  • depression and/or suicidal thoughts
  • stress and anxiety
  • time management
  • difficulty concentrating
  • drug or alcohol abuse
  • self-confidence or identity issues
  • death of a family member or close friend
  • excessive weight loss or gain, or eating problem

As the referring individual, you are the first step in the counseling process. Your approach toward the student and your attitude about counseling is of major importance. Many first-time clients have strong apprehensions about counseling. The following steps can be useful:

  1. Describe the student's behaviors that concern you. It's often helpful to note the magnitude and duration of these behaviors. For example, "I'm concerned about you because you have been very withdrawn and uncommunicative in class for the past three weeks."
  2. Give your reason for making the referral and then recommend that the student get counseling. "You and I have talked several times and it seems that things are not getting better for you. I think it would be helpful for you to talk with a professional counselor."  
  3. Ask for feedback from the student. Find out how he/she feels about the idea of going to counseling. If the student responds negatively, listen for the reasons. Being referred for counseling can have many different meanings for students:
  • Does the student believe that you think they are 'crazy?'
  • Has the student had a negative prior experience with counseling?
  • Is the student concerned about what friends or family members will think of them?
  • Is the student concerned that it will go on his/her academic record?
  • Do they feel counseling indicates a 'weakness?' 
  1. Reassure them about counseling. You may want to give some reassurance that scheduling an appointment at Counseling Services does not mean that a person is 'crazy.' Counselors see many people who can use some help with problems in living, such as those who need to make an important decision about the future. Having the courage to face one's problems in counseling indicates strength, not weakness. You might also mention that whatever is said to a counselor will be held in confidence.
  2. Recommend that the student set up an appointment soon by calling the UMSL Counseling Services at 314-516-5711. In some situations, you may want to urge the student to call from your office. In an emergency, you can walk a student to the Counseling Services office at 131 MSC (in this case, it will facilitate the process to call ahead and let the receptionist know you are coming.).
  3. Follow up with the student to see if they kept their appointment.  Recognize, however, that a student may not want to discuss the counseling experience and that the Counseling Services staff will carefully guard the confidentiality of all client contacts.  When you have made a referral, we will give the student the option to release information to you that they have attended counseling, but this is only done with the student’s express written permission.