The purpose of this guide is to provide faculty, staff, and administrators at Holy Family University with information about issues affecting our students, and how Counseling Services can be of assistance in these matters. Faculty and staff consultation requests for assistance from the Counseling Center have increased as the issues facing our students have grown in complexity. Through the following pages, we hope to increase your understanding of how you can help your students and the resources available for them at Holy Family University.
University Students Today
University students experience stress during their academic careers. This stress includes academic, social, family, work, and financial pressures. Many Holy Family University students experience unique stressors associated with being a commuter student. Family demands do not decrease as academic workloads increase, and many students are working long hours to pay to attend school. Because they live at home, our students are often still expected to provide assistance there such as babysitting, cooking, cleaning, yard work, etc. Many Holy Family University students are "first-generation" college students. Some parents who did not attend college may be unfamiliar with the pressures and responsibilities of academic life. Our students can feel overwhelmed by these competing demands for their time, energy and personal resources.
Likewise, students who live on campus face stressors unique to their situations. Most students are living away from home for the first time, often leading to "home-sickness" and feelings of loss and loneliness. Roommates can be a source of support, but also can add to the stress a student may be feeling. Differences in academic and sleep schedules, television habits, and even music appreciation may all add to the stress a student experiences in campus living. A number of students may be expected to continue their home-life involvement while living away from home, e.g., babysitting, financial support, or caring for impaired family members.
While most students are able to make this transition to higher education smoothly, others find it particularly challenging to balance the new demands of academic life. For some students, the increasing responsibilities may feel overwhelming and uncontrollable and may begin to interfere with academic progress. Feelings of isolation, loneliness, helplessness, and hopelessness can disrupt a student's academic progress and increase harmful behaviors such as avoidance of responsibilities, lack of selfcare, risk taking behaviors, and attempts at suicide.
Faculty/Staff Member: Your Role
One of the most common questions a faculty or staff member will ask the staff of the Counseling Center is: How can I help? Faculty and staff are often the first people a student will contact for assistance. The faculty and staff at Holy Family University are caring, compassionate individuals, motivated by the University mission "to foster a collegiate community that affirms the dignity of the human person and witnesses to a living Christian faith." In this spirit, many faculty and staff reach out to students to provide assistance when it is requested. Anyone who is perceived as trustworthy, knowledgeable, and caring may become a potential resource to a student during difficult times. Your interest and concern may be an important component in helping a student to resolve the difficulties that are affecting their academic and personal progress. Many times, students find that they benefit just from sharing their concerns with a faculty or staff member with the awareness that this person cares enough to listen to them.
When Might a Student Benefit from a Referral to a Mental Health Professional including the Counseling Center?
At different points in our lives, we all feel anger, sadness and emotional pain - this is a normal part of living, and life is not always pure happiness. It is important to recognize that one of these signs in isolation may not necessitate contact with a mental health professional. Sometimes just venting and talking about it with a trusted support person who listens or helps you problem solve when needed, is just enough help at the time.
However, sometimes a student is experiencing more than the "normal" ups and downs of life and could benefit from additional help. When through your relationship with a student, you observe or are informed that they are experiencing behaviors, thoughts, and emotions that are interfering with their ability to perform life functions, have healthy relationships, or achieve their goals, you may want to begin a deeper discussion with the student about what supports are needed.
One of these supports could include seeking an assessment from a mental health professional who can make recommendations for treatment. You are in an excellent position to facilitate access to additional supports on campus such as the Counseling Center. You are not expected to provide psychological counseling, make evaluations, or formulate a diagnosis; that is our work in the Counseling Center. However, you can serve as a bridge to us.
What do I say to the student?
- Request to see the student in private
- Create a safe space: This happens through validation, empathy (non-judgement), and active listening
- Validate the student’s feelings: what they are feeling is okay and you believe them
- Validation is not agreement. It is your acceptance and support for their feelings whether or not you agree with their point of view or behaviors.
- Listen to what the student is troubled about and try to see the issue from his/her point of view without necessarily agreeing or disagreeing. Use reassurance genuinely but be careful not to overuse it.
- Remember that empathy is different than sympathy. It involves putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and feeling what they feel.
- Empathy can serve as a guide to help us know how to help someone else. Remember a time in your own life when you felt a similar way and what you would have liked to have from someone else.
- Active listening implies simply that listening is an active process. In other words, you are doing something when you are listening; and therefore, it involves attending, using silence when needed, paraphrasing, clarifying, summarizing, and reflecting.
- Care through encouragement, helping actions, and maintain healthy boundaries
- Express your appreciation to the student for being so open and explain that it takes courage to ask for help and express your struggles
- Support this step they have taken in agreeing to speak with you and let them know they are doing a good thing for themselves
- Use genuineness and kindness in expressing your concerns about what you have observed or been told: Acknowledge your observations and express your concerns directly and honestly (but without judgement or labeling)
- Help them problem solve and explore options, solutions, and consequences related to their situation.
- Offer them help that you can give or feel comfortable giving related to your role in their lives/the university.
- Explain to them clearly why you are there and what you will be doing next. Having information tends to make people feel safer.
- Involve yourself only as far as you can go in your role. At times, in an attempt to reach or help a troubled student, you may become more involved than time or skill permits. Be careful of this. On the otherhand, extending oneself to others often makes them feel safe enough to share vital information and may be what they need to get through this tough time.
- Help them tolerate the distressing feelings by just being there with them through it as a calming, reassuring presence.
- **If in a crisis situation, speak calmly, be clear and direct, show compassion and care, and call the Counselor on call right away and other staff as necessary.
- Ask them what skills they have and what they do to deal with tough situations. See if they can call upon those skills/behaviors/self-care strategies
- Connect student with supportive resources both internal and external to the university
- Tell them about services offered on campus that can help them
- Help them utilize or find out more information about that resource
- When appropriate, inform them or educate them about other external resources that may be helpful to their situation.
Remember to Discuss, Refer, Follow-Up:
- Discuss: Have a private discussion with the student about the concerning behavior using the VAR Method above
- Refer: If Warranted Refer to Mental Health Support
Suggest they speak to a mental health processional. Note they may already be in treatment or have been in treatment in the past. If so, you can suggest they follow up with this treatment provider.
Note: Sometimes students have not followed through on their own treatment or say that getting treatment made things worse. This is not uncommon and there are reasons they may feel this way. Validate the students feeling but also gently suggest they perhaps speak to their counselor, try again with another counselor if their first experience was not a good fit.
If they are willing, help them make an appointment online with the counseling center right then and there.
3. Follow up:
- Let the Counseling Staff know the information and concern you have about the student. The information may provide valuable supporting information to the counselor who meets with the student.
- Report the incident up your chain of administrative command so there is a record of your conversation and concern. If any of these symptoms are a violation of the student code of conduct, then procedures for reporting behavioral violations of conduct should also be followed.
- Follow up with the Student and Continue to be aware of the student’s behaviors and if you become concerned again, repeat these steps as often as needed.
If the student is consistently concerning you, and is refusing to get help or is getting help but still exhibiting concerning behaviors, then consult with the Director of the Counseling Center and report your concern to the CARE team.
Also, follow up with your supervisor (chain of command) to let them know about your continued concern.
Note: If while speaking to the student, you become more concerned for the student or others safety due to the information being reported to you or your observations then call Public Safety/On-call Administrator and follow the mental health emergency protocol that is outlined below.
Ultimately, individuals can refuse counseling except in certain emergencies involving a danger to self or others. When recommending a referral to the Counseling Center, let the student know that you have heard their concerns and think that your recommendation to speak with someone in the Counseling Center is your best judgment based on your own observations of the student’s behavior. Avoid generalizations and be specific about the behaviors that concern you. (For example, “I can see how upset you are by this situation. I am glad that you felt you could talk to me about this, as I am extremely concerned for you when you are saying you are drinking too much every night. I think you might find it helpful also to talk to someone with more experience in this area than I have. The Counseling Center is a resource on campus….”).
If the student is reluctant to accept a referral, offer your acceptance of those feelings. Perhaps offer the option for the student to think about it and get back to you in a day or so, in case they might want to "think it over."
You are a valuable asset to a Student’s Mental Health
- Supporting, talking to, and mentoring students provides a critical, therapeutic service to students and is NOT exclusive to professional Counselors.
- Those universal, human responses that you offer- empathy, validation, encouragement, and active listening - help students mature and explore themselves, others, and the world.
- Trusted staff like yourself help students with self-management: Someone who listens can guide their thinking toward productive solutions and understanding themselves. Also, in times of crisis, you serve as guides in helping students get the help they need. Sometimes, they do not want this help because they are afraid to deal with the seriousness of the situation. You are there to guide them in participating, in being assessed, for further treatment.
- Remember, if a student is non-functional because of emotional distress, and has admitted that they are having thoughts of harming themselves or someone else, they are in need of emergency treatment. Please call Public Safety to assist in getting the student an immediate assessment by a mental health professional.
- It is often reassuring to a student to hear that you respect their willingness to talk to you and that you want to support them in getting the assistance that they need. Because you are not expected to “counsel” the student it is usually best to be frank about the limits of your ability to assist them – limits of time, energy, training, objectivity.
DO call 911 or Public Safety if you have immediate concerns for student’s safety or the safety of others
DO speak to the individual privately in a non-judgmental fashion
DO let the student know you are concerned for their welfare
DO use active Listening Skills
DO Validate and Explore Options
DO remind help is available and a signal of strength
DO maintain clear and consistent boundaries
DO refer individual to appropriate campus or community resource
DO acknowledge and discuss the student's fears and concerns about seeking a consultation from a mental health professional
DO point out that a situation does not have to reach crisis proportions for the student to benefit from professional help
DON’T ignore unusual behavior or minimize their situation
DON’T ignore warning signs about individual’s safety or the safety of others
DON’T promise confidentiality
DON’T judge or criticize
DON’T make the problem your own
DON’T involve yourself beyond the limits of your time, skill, or emotional well-being
DON’T make promises regarding services
DON’T forget to call Counseling Services to receive your own support and guidance in helping our students receive effective treatment
DON’T pathologize a student's experience. All people experience negative emotions and experience trying periods in their life
DON’T promise specific treatment to the student.
Can someone in the Counseling Center contact the student?
One thing that can be helpful is contacting the Counseling Center, in advance of any meeting with a student, to get additional guidance related to how to speak to a particular student. All circumstances are slightly different and Counselors can consult with you and help coach you through speaking to the student about your concerns. Since the student has some relationship to you, and you have direct information that has raised your concern for the student, it is more likely the student will feel comfortable speaking with you directly. The Counseling Center does not reach out to students who have not contacted us first except when the student is experiencing a mental health emergency in which case the CARE team should be notified and with the help of the CARE team and you, the student will be contacted. The center functions best as a safe space for students to autonomously seek services on a voluntary basis. Additionally, a Counselor has no authority to require that a student speak to us, keeping in mind that we cannot require anyone to come to us for assessment or counseling (except in a mental health emergency).
What Happens once a student books an appointment with the Counseling Center?
A student who comes to the Counseling Center will meet with one of the Counselors for an initial intake assessment session in which the Counselor and the student will begin to determine what help is needed and how best to assist the student. This may be simply one visit at the Counseling Center, counseling at the Counseling Center, referral to another campus office, or possibly an off campus referral for other types of intervention or more specialized longer-term treatment.
If you have referred a student for assistance, you are probably still concerned for that student and wondering how they are doing. Behavioral and mental health Counselors are held to higher standards than are other university employees who must abide by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Legal and ethical obligations prevent a Counselor from discussing a student's status with you. Counselors cannot even confirm or deny that a student has sought services! You may follow-up with the student and to ask the student if s/he followed through with your referral and went to the Counseling Center.
FERPA regulations prohibit you from revealing information about the student to anyone outside of the university. This includes parents and other agencies. As tempting as it may be, you should not be discussing the student with individuals or agencies outside of the university unless you have written permission from the student to do so. Communications within the university should also be extremely limited to a "need to know" basis. You should not be revealing information about a student to other faculty, staff, coaches, or administrators unless there is a compelling reason to do so, which is why so many faculty and staff seek consultation from the Counseling Center and/or Health Services. These two areas are completely confidential with which it is appropriate to discuss relevant concerns about a student. In any case, it is good practice to respect the student's privacy. If the student appears hesitant to discuss the issue with you after you have made a referral, this is fine. You may just wish to state that you wanted the student to know that you are concerned for their well-being and hope s/he is doing better.
Counseling Center staff are available for consultation services for students, faculty, and staff. Consultations can focus on a concern for an individual student, behavior issues in the classroom, and on specific topics of concern (eating concerns, depression/anxiety, time management, how to address a student who is not completing assignments, etc.).The Counseling Center also runs workshops and groups covering many topics to which you can refer students. You may request a collaboration with our office by way of a mental health workshop or training. Please complete the Request for Training and Presentation Form.
References to Suicide, Homicide or Death
Any explicit or implied references to suicide that include specific thoughts of wanting to end their own life or details regarding how, when, or where the individual may be contemplating suicide should be immediately referred to Public Safety, the CARE team, and the Counseling Center for further assistance. Any references to committing suicide should be considered serious. Sometimes these references are brushed off out of our own fear and discomfort or thoughts that perhaps the individual is merely seeking attention, but to do so is extremely risky. A professional mental health worker is best trained to evaluate the severity of a suicide threat, thought, or gesture and should be consulted in such situations.
Suggested Response During a Mental Health Emergency
Contacting a Counselor to Assess the Student:
- After hours, your supervisor and/or Public Safety will assist you in getting in touch with a Counselor. They will be called to assess the student over the phone. If the student is off campus then community mental health emergency services would need to be contacted based on the location where the student is located.
**Public Safety should/will be contacted to respond to the situation and secure the situation 267-341-3333. If Public Safety does not feel safe then, 911 should be called immediately. 911 can be called first if you think it is warranted.
- You and/or the students may call ahead to the Counseling Center during regular daytime hours, 8-4 pm, so they know you are coming and can be ready for the student. You can both also walk the student to the Counseling Center – knock on the door and let the counselor know it is an emergency.
- Students requesting an emergency appointment at the Counseling Center are expected to accommodate the time offered for an appointment, missing a class if necessary.
- Do not send emergency communication via email, as emails may not be reviewed in a timely fashion that an emergency may warrant, and emails are not guaranteed confidential and may not be checked off hours.
- Students, Staff, and Faculty should not leave emergency messages on voicemail if the counselor does not answer the phone.
- If a counselor is not in either counseling center office (rms 202/204) nor answers the phone, then call Public Safety at 267-341-3333. Public Safety can help contact a Counselor and/or arrange for emergency response via the Mental Health Delegate of Philadelphia at 215-685-6440.
The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and you can call this number and have the student speak to someone right away.
Mental Health Emergency Protocol
- Call your supervisor, and follow procedure for getting in touch with a Counselor based on time of day, location, and situation
- Gather Initial information to be gathered and shared with Counselor
a. Student’s name
b. Student’s Emergency Contact Person and their information
c. All details of the emergent or critical situation
d. Update on any action already taken
e. Any known past mental health history including past treatment history related to the student that could be relevant
- Wait with the student until more help arrives and continue to stay until you are told you can leave. Your observations and the information you have related to the student may need to be heard first hand by emergency personnel who assess the student further. Provide the first hand information you have to crisis personnel.
- Follow Any Departmental Protocol such as writing a report, etc.
- Continue to speak to the student as needed and report any concerning behavior
- Follow this protocol as many times as necessary (Because someone is receiving mental health treatment does not mean concerning behaviors should be ignored) **If the student is consistently concerning you, and is refusing to get help or is getting help but still exhibiting concerning behaviors, then consult with the Counseling Center and CRM by creating a Mental Health Alert/ filing a report with the CARE team. Also, follow up with your supervisor (chain of command) to let them know about your continued concern.