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 the Counseling Center 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 parents.
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 substance abuse, disordered eating, 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. 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 the Counseling Center?
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 and are in an excellent position to facilitate access to additional supports on campus such as the Counseling Center.
Tips for Recognizing a Student in Need
Individuals seek counseling for many reasons. Motivations may include a desire to solve a specific problem, to cope with stress or anxiety, or to enhance personal development. The signs described below might be helpful in making a decision about referring a student to 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 be serious, but when taken together, clusters of the indicators below may indicate that the student is experiencing more than the "normal" ups and downs of life and could benefit from additional help.
A Specific Request for Help
A request for assistance in dealing with difficulties may be stated directly or indirectly. When listening to a student, it is important to hear not only their words but the intentions and feelings that are hidden behind the words. Good listening involves hearing how things are being said, the tone of voice used, and the accompanying expressions and gestures used. Often a student will feel better just by being able to share their experience with another who is actively listening.
References to Suicide, Homicide or Death
Existential theoretical discussions about life and death differ from the statements made by a student who is seriously in pain. Any explicit or implied references to suicide that include specific details regarding how, when, or where the individual may be contemplating suicide should be immediately referred to the Counseling Center for 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. In the case of an actual suicide attempt, immediately follow the "Medical and Mental Health Emergency Procedure" posted in all offices for calling the University nurse, security, and if needed, outside emergency medical assistance. The Counseling Center should also be contacted and notified.
Changes in Academic Performance, Mood, Appearance and/or Behavior
When a student begins to behave in ways that differ from the individual's "normal" behavior, this may indicate psychological distress. Signs such as unexplained crying, irritability, unusual withdrawal or disruptive behavior, deterioration in personal hygiene, marked changes in academic performance, mood changes or swings, and unwillingness to communicate may be symptoms of a need for assistance.
Depression and Anxiety
All of us experience depression and anxiety at different times in our life. These states can be normal reactions to difficult or stressful situations and are also two of the most common mental health concerns. When these feelings are particularly intense, do not seem to resolve after a few days, or normal functioning becomes impaired, it is important to seek assistance. Depression and anxiety both can be treated successfully with the appropriate mental health services.
Excessive drinking and illicit drug abuse or dependence are strong indicators of problems for students. Although there is often a "drinking culture" among university students, substance abuse implies the inability to control the use of alcohol. Students who are experiencing problems may use alcohol or drugs to give themselves the illusion that this helps them to cope better. Substance abuse can cause physical and mental health deterioration, as well as familial, social, academic, and legal problems.
Personal Relationships and Problems
Individuals experiencing the break-up of a significant relationship, the death of a friend or family member, divorce, family problems at home, or stress in balancing one's commitments (to school, family, work, athletic team, friends, etc.) can benefit from a referral for assistance. These situations can increase stress and difficulty coping.
Academic and Learning Concerns
All new students will find that transition to college a period of adjustment to all kinds of demands. Academic work may be more challenging in content and volume. Students who were at the top of their class in high school may have trouble coping with the increased intensity of competition in university. Some students may have poor study skills, test anxiety, or miss classes frequently and could benefit from a referral for assistance. Other students may have had a formally diagnosed learning disability in high school and find the workload more difficult than had been anticipated. The Center for Academic Enhancement (Library, 2nd floor) can also serve as a resource for students seeking assistance with writing and study skills.
Students who are considering dropping out of school, transferring to another institution, or feeling overwhelmed with concerns about finances, work, and academic failure may also benefit from a referral to the Counseling Center.
Individuals with physical concerns including tension headaches, appetite changes, sleeping concerns (too much or too little), and gastrointestinal or gynecological concerns which have no apparent organic causes may be experiencing psychosomatic symptoms. The pain is real for these individuals, and the Counseling Center can assist by providing relaxation and coping techniques.
Making a Referral : When and How?
The behaviors mentioned above indicate when a student might benefit from counseling. Faculty and staff may also benefit from the following guidelines that can help to define where limits begin and end for faculty and staff involvement with a student's particular situation or problem.
WHEN to refer:
- The student's problem involves information and training that is outside your range of knowledge, experience, and certification;
- The student's problem is of a personal nature, and you know the student's family, or have a relationship with the student outside of the classroom (e.g., the student is a friend, neighbor, relative, son/daughter of a friend, etc.);
- Unresolved personality differences between you and the student may make assisting that student difficult;
- The student is hesitant or reluctant to discuss a concern with you for any reason, or you are concerned that your contacts with the student have not been effective thus far;
- Always refer when there are references to suicide or homicide.
HOW to refer
- Be direct with the student in a way that shows you are concerned about his/her well-being;
- Stay calm and do not panic;
- You can offer to sit with the student while s/he makes the connection to the Counseling Center;
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 his/her 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." Except in emergencies, the individual is free to accept or reject the offer to seek counseling.
What Happens Next?
A student who comes to the Counseling Center will meet with one of the counselors for a pre-intake 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, or possibly an off campus referral.
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 him/her to know that you are concerned for his/her 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 on issues to which you can refer students. You may also contact the Counseling Center to discuss the design and presentation of a workshop specific to your classroom needs.
There are numerous resources that can provide assistance to students. In addition to the Counseling Center, these include a physician, Health Services, Center for Academic Enhancement, Academic Advising, Campus Ministry, Careers Center, disAbility Services, Residence Life, and parents. When you refer students, it is important that you encourage them to contact these resources on their own. Although you may desire to call or arrange an appointment for the student, except in a serious emergency, it is important for the student to arrange these appointments for themselves.