Making a Referral


A referral for counseling should be considered when you believe a student’s problems go beyond your own experience and expertise, or when you feel uncomfortable helping a student with some issue. A referral may be made either because of the way the student’s problems are interfering with his or her academic work or with your teaching, or because observation of the student’s personal behavior raises concerns apart from his or her academic work.
Recognizable indicators:

  • Marked decline in quality of course work, class participation, quality of papers or test results; increased absence from class, or failure to turn in work
  • Prolonged depression suggested by a sad demeanor, apathy, weight loss, (appearance of lack of sleep) tearfulness
  • Nervousness, agitation, excessive worry; irritability, aggressiveness, non-stop talking
  • Bizarre, strange behavior or speech
  • Violent outbursts
  • Extreme dependency on faculty or staff, including spending much of his or her time visiting during office hours or other times
  • Marked changes in personal hygiene
  • Signs of excessive alcohol or drug use
  • Binging or purging of food
  • Withdrawal from friends or social isolation
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Talk of suicide, either directly or indirectly, such as, “I won’t be around to take that exam anyway,” or “I’m not worried about getting a job; I won’t need one.”
  • Uncharacteristic comments in a student’s paper that arouse concern

Each student experiences stress somewhat differently, and many disturbances in the 17- to 22-year old age group are relatively transient. However, you may become alarmed by even brief changes which are extreme or by significant changes that continue for some time. If there is doubt about the seriousness of the problem, consult a Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) staff member about how to evaluate the situation and follow the most appropriate steps.

Making a Referral

One way of introducing the topic of a counseling referral to a student is to summarize to them what you understand to be the problem. For example, “You sound very depressed about your relationship problems. I have found that other students who felt that way have been helped by talking to a professional, someone at CAPS. How would you feel about that?”

In speaking to the student about counseling, it is important to keep in mind some of the negative reactions a student may have to the idea and be ready to discuss them.

You can explain to the student that counseling is not just for “crazy” people (most clients have normal “problems in living”) nor does it encourage dependency (counseling is time-limited on campus). Counseling does provide a chance to explore feelings and solve problems with the help of an objective, sensitive, concerned listener, who is professionally trained.

Once the student has agreed that counseling might be useful, there are several possible steps to take, depending on the student’s attitude and the urgency of the situation.

  1. Give the student information about CAPS and urge them to call.
  2. Offer to let the student call from your office right then, so that a public commitment will be made.
  3. Accompany the student yourself to make sure he or she arrives at CAPS, and provide the center with any necessary information. The CAPS staff will appreciate your calling ahead if the student is being brought over or sent directly so that plans can be made to have a counselor available.

Although most students are ambivalent about counseling, it is important that the student really wants help. Coercing a student to go to counseling is not likely to have positive results in the long run. Generally, unless there is some immediate concern about the welfare of the student, it is better to try to maintain your relationship with the student rather than to force them to go to CAPS. The idea can be brought up again later.

After the Referral is Made

Making an appointment at CAPS is simple. If a student is visiting CAPS for the first time, they will be scheduled to meet with a counselor for an initial assessment. Students may call CAPS at 407-823-2811 to schedule an appointment in advance. In addition, a limited number of same day appointments are available. In an emergency, as defined either by you or the student, it is recommended that the student be seen on the same day.

The purpose of the initial interview assessment is to learn what is troubling the student and to assess appropriate services for those issues. (e.g., individual or group counseling at the center or referral to a more appropriate service on campus or in the community).

If ongoing counseling is appropriate, regular appointments will be scheduled for 45 to 50 minutes. At busy times of the year, it may be two weeks or so before regular appointments begin, but students are encouraged to let the office know if they feel too distressed to wait, and they will receive priority scheduling.

It is important for members of the campus community to understand that the interviews conducted with students at CAPS are confidential. Information or content of those sessions cannot be released or discussed without the student’s written permission. The Center staff adheres very strictly to ethical and legal parameters of Confidentiality.

If a faculty or staff member is interested in knowing whether a student has visited or made contact with the center, they should ask that student directly (since students are not bound by the same obligation of confidentiality that counselors/psychologists are obliged to keep). In some instances, a student may want CAPS to share certain information with faculty, staff, or a parent. This can be done if the student provides written authorization that specifies the purpose and content of such a disclosure.

Working with Students

In some cases, students who seek your help or arouse your concern may work more effectively with you rather than being referred to counseling. Your willingness to listen may be very important to those students. You may also choose to work with the student on improving his or her academic work without focusing on the psychological issues that underlie the behavior. A counselor at CAPS can be consulted on how to best handle either of these approaches or how to make a referral.