General Intervention Guidelines and Resources for Faculty and Staff
Assisting Students in Distress and Referring Students to the Counseling Center
As a faculty or staff member interacting daily with students, you are in an excellent position to recognize behavioral changes that characterize the emotionally troubled student. A student’s behavior, especially if it is inconsistent with your previous observations, could well constitute an attempt to draw attention to her/his plight as “a cry for help.” Students often experience significant changes in their lives during the course of their education. The stress of academic, social, work, and/or financial concerns are often inter-related and may result in a student turning to you for help.
Your ability to recognize the signs of emotional distress, and your courage to acknowledge your concerns directly to the student, often are noted by students as the most significant factor in their successful problem resolution. Often times our own feelings (i.e. uneasiness, anxiety, fear) can be excellent indicators that something is not quite right.
If you ever have these types of feelings and are not quite sure what to do, this guide can be helpful. You are also welcome to call the Counseling Center for a consultation whenever you are unsure of a situation.
Distinguishing between distressed, disruptive, and dangerous student behavior
Distressed: Behavior that causes us to feel alarmed, upset, or worried (most common).
Disruptive: Behavior that interferes with or interrupts the education process of other students or the normal business functions of the university.
Dangerous: Behavior that leaves us feeling frightened and in fear for our personal safety or the safety of others.
***General Rule -- If it doesn't feel right, it's usually not right! (Trust your gut.)
Signs of Distress Include:
- Inability to concentrate
- Persistent worrying
- Social isolation
- Increased irritability
- Bizarre behavior
- Missed classes / assignments
- Disheveled appearance
- Mood swings
Guidelines for Interaction
Openly acknowledging to students that you are aware of their distress, that you are sincerely concerned about their welfare, and that you are willing to help them explore their alternatives, can have a profound effect. We encourage you, whenever possible, to speak directly and honestly to a student when you sense that she/he is in academic and/or personal distress.
- Request to see the student in private. Doing so may help minimize the embarrassment and defensiveness.
- Briefly acknowledge your observations and perceptions of the situation and express your concerns directly and honestly.
- Listen carefully to what is troubling the student and try to see the issues from her/his point of view without necessarily agreeing or disagreeing.
- Attempt to identify the student's problem or concern, as well as your own concerns or uneasiness. You can help by exploring alternatives to deal with the problem.
- Comment directly on what you have observed without interpreting or judging. Strange and inappropriate behavior should not be ignored.
- Be mindful of only involving yourself as much as you are able. At times, in an attempt to reach or help a troubled student, you may become more involved than time or skill permits. Extending oneself to others always involves some risk--but it can be a gratifying experience when kept within realistic limits. If the burden becomes too heavy, or any time you are in doubt, please refer to the Counseling Center and we will provide direct intervention, and / or refer to an appropriate facility.
Here are a few ideas for starting these sorts of conversations:
"I think I can understand how difficult things are for you.".
"It sounds like you're having a hard time right now.".
"I can see it is hard for you even to discuss how you feel.".
"I understand that you believe there is nothing wrong. Perhaps I got the wrong impression.".
"If you don't feel comfortable talking to me about these matters, perhaps you would find it easier to talk to a counselor, privately and confidentially."
It can be helpful to try to guide the student to more fully express and clarify his/her feelings and thoughts. Some examples:
"Have there been any changes in your life ?"
"We all have feelings like this sometimes. It usually helps to air how you feel, even if you can't resolve your difficulties quickly."
"The harder you try, the less successful you seem to feel."
"Try to put your feelings into words."
"Tell me more about that."
Again, suggest that the student see a counselor in the Counseling Center if his/her problems seem too extensive or complex for you to provide direct assistance.
Consultation is Available
If you are unsure of how to handle a specific student, we encourage you to consult with the director or with one of the counselors on our staff. If not an emergency, call us at 410-532-5384, state who you are (faculty, staff, administrator) and ask to speak with one of our counselors. We will return your call as soon as possible. A brief consultation may help you sort out the relevant issues, explore alternative approaches and suggest new ways to cope with the anxiety or stress the student may be experiencing. Overall, when dealing with most students in crisis situations, conveying your concern and willingness to help in any way you can (including referral) is probably the most important thing you can do. Your support, encouragement (including referral), and reassurance will be particularly valuable to a student in crisis.
Referral to Counseling & Psychological Services
When you have determined that a referral to the Counseling Center is appropriate, you can be most helpful by clearly and concisely telling the student why you think counseling would be helpful. You might also tell the student a few facts about our services. For instance, all services are free to regularly enrolled students, and counselors provide counseling Monday through Thursday from 10 AM to 7 PM and on Friday from 10AM to 3PM. All discussions are confidential except when the student presents a danger to self, others, or when abuse is involved. Early intervention is preferable to crisis intervention. To ensure prompt attention, it is best to ask in advance for an appointment. Requesting appointments online through our website http://www.ndm.edu/offices-and-services/counseling-center/request-an-appointment/ is the easiest and fastest way to seek counseling. Having the student request the appointment increases her/his responsibility and commitment to come for counseling; however, there may be times, especially if the student is in crisis, when it is advantageous for you to call and make the appointment and/or accompany the student to our office. We will schedule the student with one of our staff as quickly as possible. Here are some examples of what you might say to the student when referring:
"We all need some kind of help at some time, even if it's only talking to someone who can listen without criticism or upset.".
"It's a sign of increasing maturity when a person knows it's time to seek some help."
"It takes strength and courage to ask for help.".
"Sometimes if you're unsure of what you really want to do, that creates tension and stress inside you.".
"The professional services at the College are free and totally confidential. Nothing goes in your record. Nobody can find out what you would be talking about.".
"Counseling has been helpful to others like yourself. You can try it and see if it helps."
— DO —
- Have the student request an appointment online at http://www.ndm.edu/offices-and-services/counseling-center/request-an-appointment/ or come to the Counseling Center to fill out an intake form.
- Identify the need for an assessment (indicate if it is urgent).
- If an emergency, escort the student to the Counseling Center or call the Director at (443)846-6146.
In the instance that the Counseling Center is on a wait list, it is still best to refer the student to us so that we can provide them with the appropriate off-campus referrals. Clinical staff can assess the urgency of the student’s request for services and potentially provide triage care, and referrals can depend upon whether the student wants to use insurance or needs a sliding scale.
In some situations, it may be imperative to request the student be seen as soon as possible. If a student's situation is urgent, she/he will probably have concerns involving:
- Suicide/Fear of losing control and possibly harming/hurting someone
- Sexual assault
- Physical assault or witness to an assault or accident
- Fear for her/his life or for the life of someone they know
- Abuse/Recent death of a friend or family member
— DO —
- Call or have the student call the director at (443)846-6146 or escort the student to the Counseling Center. You may knock on closed doors to interrupt a session if it is an emergency.
- State who you are (student, faculty, staff, administrator).
- Identify the need for an urgent assessment (indicate if it is urgent).
- The counseling staff member will make a professional assessment of how quickly the student needs to be seen and appropriate action will be taken.
When to Call Public Safety
- When you believe that you or another person is in immediate danger.
- When you believe that the student is about to harm her/himself.
- When you believe that the student is out of control and is disrupting the classroom.
Personal Counseling Available to NDMU Students
Individual counseling is available to enrolled Notre Dame of Maryland students. After requesting an appointment, students will be scheduled with the next available counselor. If further intervention is needed, the student will be referred to off-campus treatment providers. Students can receive crisis assistance or interpersonal therapy throughout the academic year. Please note that availability of counseling sessions can change based upon counselor availability, and that the course of treatment could change based on student need and the professional judgment of the counseling staff.
Useful Contact Information
Monday - Thursday, 10 AM - 7PM, Friday 10 AM- 3PM
Director of Counseling Services
Amy Provan, Psy. D.
Assistant Director of Counseling Services
Elizabeth Scott, M.S., L.G.P.C.
Monday - Friday, 9 AM - 5 PM
Office of Public Safety
(410) 532-5360 or
X6666 for emergencies
24 Hours/Day, 7 Days/Week Call 911
Contact the Counseling Center for a more extensive referral list.
Our sincere thanks to the Career Development and Counseling Center at California State University, Fullerton, Long Beach, Brooklyn College New York, University of New Hampshire, and the California Organization of Counseling Center Directors in Higher Education whose combined efforts we have liberally borrowed to include on our website.