When do I refer a student to a counselor?

Teaching college students can be challenging, given that college is a time when students are moudling themselves into young adults, and are often excited to dive into their new independent roles. This phase also brings with it a lot of confusion that can translate into problematic behavior in a classroom or campus setting.

When a student has a physical injury a teacher quickly uses first-aid to prevent the wound from getting infected. Similarly, emotional injuries such as failure, fear of exams, rejection among peers, guilt from inability to acheive goals, and low self-esteem, can be initially handled by using the relative emotional first-aid to ensure the emotional wellbeing of the students. 

In cases where the magnitude of the student's problem is low, such as concerns related to failure in examination, trouble understanding a subject, academic stress, career orientation, classroom teasing, etc, the teacher can handle their emotional injuries by:

  • Being supportive and offering assistance to students who need help such as time management or preparing a study time-table
  • Engaging the students in planning their own future
  • Acknowledging academic improvement
  • Guiding them in making career goals
  • Encouraging peer interaction by creating activities that involve groups of students where they rely on each other in order to succeed
  • Creating opportunities to develop respectful communication between peers

However, when the teacher comes across a student whose problem needs the intervention of a trained counselor, they can slowly introduce the idea of including the college counselor in the conversation. This may be important in situations that involve bullying, substance dependence, sexual abuse or ideas of suicide. In such cases, the teacher can provide the emotional first-aid, before referring them to a counselor, by:

  • Actively listening to the problem being shared and being sensitive to the student's views
  • Expressing empathy and support by using phrases such as "I understand", "It must have been very difficult for you."
  • Maintaining confidentiality; refraining from sharing the student's concerns with co-workers or the student’s peers
  • Refraining from reacting, judging or reprimanding the student

Some students may not be receptive to the idea of talking to the college counselor. Under such circumstances, share your concerns with the counselor to see if they can make an informal intervention to gain the trust of the student.