Making Referrals


Faculty and staff should be alert to signs of emotional distress, when and how to make a referral, and how to direct a troubled student to get help.

CAPS Guide to Making Referrals

Due to the frequency and special nature of their contact with students, faculty members are in a direct position to observe students and be aware of their needs. Students often perceive faculty members as the first point of contact in obtaining advice and support for emotional, behavioral and academic problems. The same may hold true for staff members. Therefore, it's important that faculty and staff be knowledgeable in areas related to student cues for assistance as well as the procedures for referral and the services provided by Counseling and Psychological Services. This brief referral guide is designed to inform, answer questions and offer suggestions relating to these issues. Students may also benefit from this information.

Students often experience significant changes in their lives during the course of their education. Such changes, at times, become stressful enough to pose serious threats to their academic progress. The stress of academic, social, family, work and/or financial concerns are often inter-related and may result in a student turning to you for help. In fact, anyone who is perceived as knowledgeable, caring and trustworthy may be a potential resource in times of trouble.

A faculty or staff member's willingness to lend special assistance to students undoubtedly is influenced by the personal style and philosophy of the individual. Situational factors, such as class size, also have a substantial effect on the type of interactions possible between the faculty and students. Nonetheless, ample evidence indicates faculty and staff members are often in a position to identify troubled students. Timely expressions of interest and concern may be a critical factor in helping students solve problems that are interfering with academic survival and success.

CAPS provides consultation services for students, faculty, staff and campus professionals. These consultations often focus on a concern for an individual, on behavioral problems that occur in classrooms, or on other issues that may have important psychological dimensions. The Center's faculty will attempt to respond to requests for consultation as soon as daily schedules permit. Please tell the secretary if you think the situation is an emergency requiring immediate attention.

The reasons that individuals seek help from psychologists are as varied as the people themselves. An individual's motives for seeking counseling might range from wishing to solve a particular problem to desiring to enhance his/her own personal development. In any case, the following indicators might be useful in making a decision about referring a student to CAPS. To prevent possible over-interpretation of a single or isolated behavior, it's advisable to look for clusters of signs or symptoms that appear at approximately the same time.

1. Stated Need for Help

The desire for assistance in dealing with a problem may be stated directly or indirectly. For this reason, it's important not only to attend to the content of what a student may say but also to understand the intentions and feelings underlying his or her message. Listening involves hearing the way things are being said, noticing the tone used and observing the expressions and gestures employed. In fact, having someone listen attentively to an expression of a problematic feeling or thought is often a helpful experience for the speaker which, in and of itself, can result in that individual feeling somewhat better.

2. References to Suicide

It's often necessary to distinguish between a theoretical or hypothetical discussion of suicide and a statement that reflects true personal anguish. However, if an individual talks about or alludes to details of how, when or where he or she may be contemplating suicide, then immediate referral is necessary. Regardless of the circumstances or context, any reference to committing suicide should be considered serious. To conclude that a student's suicidal talk is simply a bid for attention is extremely risky, and a judgment about the seriousness and possible lethality of the suicidal thought or gesture shouldn't be made without consulting a mental health professional. In case you're contacted following an actual suicide attempt, immediately call Student Health Services at 814-732-2743, University Police at 814- 732-2911 (or 2921), or dial 911 to arrange for medical evaluation and treatment.

3. Changes in Mood or Behavior

Actions that are inconsistent with an individual's typical behavior may indicate that he or she is experiencing psychological distress. Someone who withdraws from usual social interaction, demonstrates an unwillingness to communicate, commits asocial acts, has spells of unexplained crying or outbursts of anger, or demonstrates unusual irritability may be suffering from symptoms associated with a psychological problem.

4. Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression are two of the more common psychological disturbances that can present significant problems for students. Both these rather common emotional states can impair an individual's usual functioning when these states become prolonged or severe. When an individual's ability to function in a normal manner becomes impaired because of anxiety or depression, some kind of assistance should be recommended.

5. Psychosomatic Symptoms

Individuals who experience tension-induced headaches, nausea or other physical pains that have no apparent organic cause may be experiencing psychosomatic symptoms. Such psychosomatic symptoms are real for that individual, and so is the pain. Other physical symptoms of possible problems may include a loss of appetite or excessive eating, insomnia or excessive sleeping, or gastrointestinal distress. A medical evaluation to rule out an organic cause should be obtained first. Initial referral to Student Health Services or a family physician is recommended.

6. Changes in Personal Relationships

Personal problems often result when an individual experiences traumatic change in personal relationships. The death of a family member or close friend, difficulties in marriage or family relationships, divorce, changes in family responsibilities and difficulties in other significant relationships can all result in increased stress and psychological difficulties.

7. Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Indications of excessive drinking, drug abuse or drug dependence are almost always indicative of psychological problems. In the case of a drug overdose or severe drug reaction, call Student Health Services at 814-732-2743 or local Emergency Medical Services (EMS) at 911. Drug and Alcohol Services through Gaudenzia Erie are available on campus by calling 814-459-6304.

8. Psychological Trauma

Traumatic stress outside the range of typical human experience is often markedly distressing and disruptive to individuals. Such experiences include rape and sexual assault, sexual harassment, criminal assault or threats, and witness of a serious injury or death. Immediate counseling can help reduce the impact of such trauma.

9. Learning Problems

Many students find the demands of college-level academic work to be greater than they anticipated. While it is expected that all students will go through some adjustment period in this regard, those who demonstrate a consistent discrepancy between their performance and their potential may need assistance. Poor study habits, incapacitating test anxiety or repeated absences from class are all matters that might benefit from counseling services.

10. Retention Issues

Research has shown that counseling services are effective in combating student attrition. Students who are considering dropping out of school, contemplating a transfer to another college, or worrying about possible academic failure may find counseling to be a useful resource during their decision-making.

Aside from the signs and symptoms that may suggest the need for counseling, other guidelines may help the faculty or staff member define the limits of his or her involvement with a student's problem. A referral is usually indicated in the following situations:

  1. A student presents a problem or requests information that is outside your range of knowledge.
  2. You feel that personality differences that cannot be resolved between you and the student will interfere with your helping the student.
  3. The problem is personal, and you know the student on a nonprofessional basis (friend, neighbor, relative, etc.).
  4. A student is reluctant to discuss a problem with you for some reason.
  5. You believe that counseling the student may compromise your professional role (e.g., teacher, advisor).
  6. You do not believe your counseling with the student has been effective.
When you've determined that a student might benefit from professional counseling, it's usually best to speak directly to the student in a straightforward fashion that will show your concern for his or her welfare. It's not advisable to attempt to deceive or trick the student into seeking counseling. Make it clear that this recommendation represents your best judgment based on your observations of the student's behavior. Be specific regarding the behaviors that have raised your concerns, and avoid making generalizations about the individual.

It's important to remind the student of your limitations in helping (example: "I'm your professor and I am concerned about you, but I can't be neutral in this situation" or "I am not trained to deal with this kind of a concern"). This conveys your support as well as the realistic limits of what you can do in the situation.

Except in emergencies, the option must be left open for the student to accept or refuse counseling. If the student is skeptical or reluctant for whatever reason, simply express your acceptance of those feelings so that your own relationship with the student is not jeopardized. Give the student an opportunity to consider other alternatives by suggesting that he or she might need some time to think it over. If the student emphatically says "No," then respect that decision, and again leave the situation open for possible reconsideration at a later time.

If the student agrees to the referral, have the student call CAPS from your office to make an appointment. The student's first contact with the Center will typically be an initial or "intake" interview in which the student and the psychologist make decisions about the type of help needed. Intake appointments are usually scheduled within a week of the student's request but may be available on the same day. At certain times during the semester, a waiting list may be in effect, resulting in a longer delay for an initial appointment. Students requiring immediate help because of psychological difficulties are seen on an emergency basis. When making the appointment, advise the secretary of any need for immediacy. At the intake interview, students are requested to permit a referral acknowledgment letter be sent to the person making the referral. Finally, you should follow up with the student at a later date to show your continued interest even if he or she did not accept your attempted referral.

The Center provides services to enrolled students without charge on a short-term basis, up to 10 sessions per academic year. Session limit guidelines are adjusted based on student demand for services and availability of CAPS faculty. In emergency situations involving students who are unwilling or unable to seek help on their own, faculty members may call CAPS at 814-732-2252, Student Health Services at 814-732-2743 or the University Police 814-732-2921.
It's important for members of the University community to understand that the interviews conducted by psychologists and counselors are confidential. Information about those interviews or the content of such interviews cannot be released except upon a student's written request, in circumstances that would result in clear danger to the individual or others, or as may be required by law. CAPS adheres very strictly to this policy.

If a faculty or staff member is interested in a student's contact with CAPS, information can best be obtained directly from the student. Students are not bound by the same promises of confidentiality that professional psychologists and counselors are obliged to keep. The student alone can authorize the sharing of confidential information.

Assistance for students is not limited to professional counseling, but may include referral to a physician, campus offices and support services, community agencies, parents, a resident advisor, a member of the clergy, etc. For this reason, knowledge of persons, offices and agencies that can be of service to the student is of primary importance. Students become discouraged and frustrated when they feel passed along from office to office without receiving the assistance needed. If you're unsure of the appropriate place to send a student for specific information or help, call CAPS at 814-732-2252 for information and consultation, as well as those available in the community.

CAPS recommends that the following service providers be contacted when emergency after-hour services are required:

Student Health Services: 814-732-2743
University Police: 814-732-2911
Safe Harbor Behavioral Health, Inc.: Crisis Services: 814-456-2014 or 800-300-9558 (Erie County)
Saint Vincent Mental Health Center: 814-452-5353 (Erie County)
Meadville Medical Center: 814-724-2732 (Crawford County)
Crisis Hotline, Stairways Behavioral Health: 814-724-2732 or 800-315-5721 (Crawford County)

In other areas, consult your local telephone directory or directory service.

Contact Us

Ghering Health and Wellness Center
McNerney Hall, 1st Floor
300 Scotland Road
Edinboro, PA 16444

Counseling and Psychological Services
Phone: 814-732-2252
Fax: 814-732-2666