Consultation - Helping You to Help Others
If You're Concerned About a Friend...
Counselors are not normally the first point of contact individuals turn to when they have problems. Students are in almost daily contact with friends, resident assistants, advisors, faculty, and family members, and they naturally confide in those closest to them when they are having difficulties. As a result, these individuals are in an excellent position to provide information and assistance to students in distress, and also to refer students to professional counseling when they appear to have more serious concerns.
The Counseling Clinic provides consultation for UNIVERSITY students, faculty, staff, and parents who are concerned about the unusual, problematic, or potentially harmful behavior of others. In person or over the phone, a staff member will explore your concerns and help you develop ideas for dealing effectively with the situation. If the circumstances warrant, we'll also help you with the process of finding professional help for the person, either at the Counseling Clinic or in the community.
Tips for Referring a Friend
Speak directly to the person about your concerns, preferably in private. People in distress are almost always receptive to an expression of genuine interest, caring, and concern.
Be specific about the behaviors you've observed that have caused your concern (e.g., falling grades, drinking too much, crying a lot, withdrawing from friends, statements about suicide, etc.). Clearly stating your observations makes it more difficult for the person to deny that a problem exists and also lets the person know that you care enough to notice.
Remember that, except in cases of emergency, the decision whether to accept a referral to counseling rests with the person. If the person refuses the idea of counseling, it's usually best not to push. Suggest that the two of you explore this matter again some time in the future.
Don't try to deceive or trick the person into counseling. Attempting to fool the individual will only diminish his or her trust in you and in the counseling process.
Many people have negative preconceptions about counseling based upon stereotypes. Educate the individual on the process of counseling.
Let the person know that counseling is free and voluntary and that he or she can terminate the process at any time.
Make sure the individual knows that counseling is confidential.
Tell the person that counseling sessions are normally scheduled on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and that a typical session normally lasts for 50 minutes.
Let the individual know that counselors work hard to understand students, to see things from their point of view, and to then collaboratively help them to figure out solutions.
Assure the person that, if an appointment is made with a counselor and things don't work out, he or she can ask to meet with a different professional with whom he or she might feel more comfortable.
Assist the person in making an appointment at the Counseling Clinic. If the person is really upset, or if you're worried that he or she might not follow through, suggest that the individual make an appointment now. If the person is still hesitant, offer to call for him or her. Some faculty, staff, and friends have even brought students directly to the Counseling Clinic when that level of support has been necessary.
Because people often mistakenly see coming to counseling as a sign of weakness, frame the decision to seek counseling as a mature choice that suggests that the person is not running away from problems.
After the first meeting with a counselor, follow up by asking how things went during the session. If the person is ambivalent about continuing in counseling, some additional encouragement might be helpful. The counseling process is often most difficult at the very beginning, and your encouragement may help to get the person over this initial hurdle.
Click here to see a copy of the Distressed Student Handbook, which may have helpful information when trying to help a friend in distress.