What Can You Do?
If you choose to approach a student you are concerned about or if a student reaches out to you for help with personal problems, here are some suggestions which might make the opportunity more comfortable for you and more helpful for the student.
TALK AND LISTEN to a student in private when both of you have the time and are not rushed or preoccupied. Give the student your undivided attention. Effective listening for even a few minutes can be enough to help the student feel cared about as an individual and more confident about what to do. Empathize with their experience by trying to "put yourself in their shoes".
If you have initiated the contact, express your concern in behavioral, non-judgmental terms. For example, "I've noticed you've been absent from class lately and I'm concerned", rather than "Where have you ben lately? You should be more concerned about your grades."
LISTEN to thoughts and feelings in a sensitive, non threatening way. Communicate understanding by repeating back the essence of what the student has told you. Try to include both content and feelings ("It sounds like you're not accustomed to such a big campus and you're feeling left out of things.") Let the student talk.
GIVE HOPE Assure the student that things can get better. It is important to help them realize there are options, and that things will not always seem hopeless. Suggest resources - friends, family, clergy or professionals on campus. Recognize that your purpose should be to provide enough hope to enable the student to consult a professional or other appropriate person and not to solve the student's problems.
AVOID judging, evaluating, and criticizing even if the student asks your opinion. Such behavior is apt to push the student away from you and from the help he or she needs. It is important to respect the students value system, even if you disagree with it.
MAINTAIN clear and consistent boundaries and expectations. It is important to maintain the professional nature of the faculty / student relationship and the consistency of academic expectations, exam schedules, etc.
REFER If you have decided that a student could benefit from counseling, speak about this in a straightforward fashion. Some students will feel relieved that there is help available and will agree to make an appointment. Others may initially resist this suggestion so it is important to show concern for the student's welfare without trying to force them into a decision.
In your desire to help a student, do not try to deceive or trick a student into seeking counseling. Be specific regarding the behaviors that have raised your concerns, and avoid making generalizations about the individual. In suggesting the referral point out that:
- Help is available
- Seeking such help is a sign of strength and courage rather than weakness or failure.
It may be helpful to point out that seeking professional help for other problems (medical, legal, car problems, etc.) is considered good judgment and an appropriate use of resources. For example, "If you had a broken arm you would go to a doctor rather than try to set it yourself." If you can, prepare the student for what they might expect if they follow your suggestion. Tell them what you know about the referral person or service.
FOLLOW-UP Arrange a time to meet with the student again to solidify their resolve to obtain appropriate help and to demonstrate your commitment to assist them in this process. Check later to see that the referral appointment was kept and to hear how it went. Provide support while the student takes further appropriate action or pursues another referral if needed.
CONSULT When in doubt about the appropriateness of an intervention, call Rutgers University Health Services (609-225-6005), the Dean of Students (609-225-6050), or the Rutgers University Police (609-225-6111). A student whose behavior has become threatening, violent, or significantly disruptive may need a different kind of approach.
REMEMBER Except in emergencies, the decision to accept or refuse a referral for counseling is a highly personal one with the final decision being in the hands of the student. If a student is skeptical or reluctant for whatever reason, simply express your acceptance of those feelings so that your own relationship with the student is not jeopardized. Give the student an opportunity to consider other alternatives by suggesting that he or she might need some time to think it over. If the student emphatically says "no", then respect that decision, and leave it open for reconsideration at a later time. While the referral may not take place immediately, you may be sowing important seeds for the future.
What can you do if the student is ready for a referral?
If a student appears ready to accept a referral, encourage them to set up a meeting as soon as possible. You can help this process by offering immediate use of your phone, or being willing to walk with the student to Rutgers University Health Services (856-225-6005) on the second floor of the Campus Center. Health Services is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The receptionist will try to arrange an appointment that works for the student. In cases of urgent care, we will assist the student immediately.