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Referring Students for Counseling

Augustana faculty, staff and residence hall personnel often encounter distressed students, and can play a crucial role in identifying those who could benefit from counseling services. We offer these guidelines to assist you in recognizing students in distress, communicating effectively with them , and referring them for counseling:


Identifying "Distress Signals"


Students who exhibit a combination of these symptoms or behaviors over a sustained period of time should be of particular concern:

  • sudden deterioration in academic work, frequent absences or tardiness, inappropriate or disruptive classroom behavior, papers with themes of distress
  • dependency-the student hangs around you or makes excessive appointments to see you
  • listlessness, lack of energy, falling asleep in class
  • coming to class intoxicated or high
  • references to death or suicide; expressions of hopelessness
  • physical changes, especially sudden weight loss or deteriorating personal hygiene
  • withdrawal, isolation from others
  • inability to make decisions despite your attempts to clarify and encourage
  • excessive somatic complaints
  • high irritability, angry outbursts
  • bizarre or strange behavior, such as unexplained crying, hearing voices, disorganized thinking, blatantly inappropriate comments or questions in class
  • over-reaction to criticism or mistakes
  • visible signs of depression or anxiety

Guidelines for Interaction

The following guidelines will help you communicate effectively with distressed students:

  • speak to the student in private, at a time when you have adequate time talk (ex: after class, not right before)
  • listen carefully and show genuine interest and concern
  • reflect back to the student what you hear him/her saying
  • refrain from critical or judgmental comments or questions
  • offer specific, non-judgmental descriptions of behaviors that concern you (ex: "I'm concerned that you've slept through class 3 times this week")
  • try to determine if student has a support system (friends, family) and if so, are they reaching out to those people
  • involve yourself only as much as you feel comfortable; be careful about getting overly involved
  • describe the resources available on campus (Dean of Students, Counseling Service, Campus Ministry, Reading-Writing Center, etc)
  • give student a sense of hope that things can improve with a new plan of action
  • if a student resists help and you are worried, contact either the Student Counseling Service (7357) or Dean of Students (7533) for a consultation

How to Make a Referral

Talking with faculty or staff can often help students work through minor problems or crises. However, if a student has a problem that seems outside your area of knowledge, if a student seems unimproved or worse after several meetings, or if a student is unwilling to discuss a problem with you consider a referral to the Student Counseling Service. Of course, if a student is a potential danger to him/herself or to others, he/she should see a professional counselor immediately. The following guidelines will help you in making a referral:


  • suggest in a straightforward fashion that the student make an appointment at the SCS; explain that your referral is based on what the student has told you or what you have observed about their behavior
  • reassure the student that it is normal to experience some problems during the college years and tell them that a large percentage of Augustana students seek help at the SCS during their time here
  • ask the student to call the SCS at 794-7357

(Note: some students may feel more comfortable calling to make the appointment from your office or having you call to make the appointment for him/her-this is fine with us!)

  • if the situation is an emergencyFounders Hall 206
  • if you are concerned about a student but are uncertain about the appropriateness of a referral, feel free to call one of our staff for a confidential consultation at 794-7357
  • after referring a student to the SCS, it is a good idea to have follow-up contact with that student to show that you continue to be interested in his/her welfare and to see if the student is doing better

How to Respond if a Student if Volatile

The following tips are provided in the event a student becomes agitated, seems out of control or acts out:

  • if you feel unsafe or are concerned about the student's safety, contact Campus Security at 7711
  • if you feel comfortable and safe, ask the student to meet with you outside the classroom so you may speak privately
  • remain CALM during the interaction; your demeanor can prevent the situation from escalating and may actually help the student calm down
  • be respectful in your interaction, but set clear and firm limits-"I can see you are upset and I want to help you, but in order to do that I first need you to . . ."
  • be patient and listen carefully to both the verbal and non-verbal message the student is conveying; acknowledge that you understand their concerns and feelings
  • be concrete in identifying the presenting issue and suggesting an immediate plan of action
  • encourage the student to accompany you to the Counseling Service or to the Dean of Students Office to further discuss the situation
  • respectfully inform the student of possible consequences should he/she continue to behave or act inappropriately (dismissal from class, contact security, etc)