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Students in Distress

The Faculty Role: A Guide for University Counseling Center Services

Download a copy of the Students in Distress, The Faculty Role brochure (204.3kb.pdf)

Download a copy of the Responding to Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom brochure (200.3kb .pdf)


At one time or another, everyone experiences unhappiness or depression. The “blues” are common and usually don’t last long, but certain patterns of behavior over a period of time can indicate something is wrong and professional help may be needed.

Behaviors that indicate emotional distress aren’t always disruptive to the classroom. However, faculty members are in a unique position to observe the patterns a student’s actions suggest.Some behaviors that may not be disruptive, but may indicate a need for help, are:

Sometimes students, even those in significant distress, are reluctant or unable to acknowledge a need for help. Behaviors that may indicate severe distress include:



Although it’s fairly rare, some students are so disturbed they become disruptive in class. Many faculty members make efforts to contain the situation and deal with it directly by speaking with the student after class about his or her behavior. If this happens, the student may reveal personal problems and a referral to the University Counseling Center can be made. Often, however, the first effort may not get results. Calling the Counseling Center for a consultation might prove to be helpful. Together, we can develop a strategy to deal with the disruptive behavior and get the student some help if possible. Discussing the disruptive student with your department chair or dean could also prove helpful. In the case of a dangerous or threatening student, call the University Police at 777-2393 or 911 (on-campus phones only), as well as the University Counseling Center at 777-2772.

Some behaviors students will exhibit that indicate they’re in crisis and need emergency attention include:

For additional information, view the Responding to Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom brochure (200.3kb .pdf).



Some crises or overwhelming situations aren’t as obvious; yet, you may know something needs to be done. We hope the information in this section will help you deal with those less clear-cut situations.

You have a variety of choices for dealing with behavior that indicates to you that a student may be troubled, but isn’t in crisis. You may choose to ignore it; handle it in a “strictly business” way, that is, only with respect to the classroom; or you may handle it more personally. Calling the University Counseling Center may be helpful in deciding which course of action you would like to take.

If you decide to approach the student or the student approaches you directly and you decide to handle the problem personally:



Crises are the easiest form of student distress to identify and, in some ways, the easiest to handle. Assistance and emergency referral procedures are outlined here for your convenience:



There are times when it’s clearly not in anyone’s best interest for you to try to handle a student’s distress personally. You may not be able to give enough time, you may know that your personality differences will get in the way or you may genuinely dislike the student. Whatever the reason or reasons, there are times it’s best to turn the problem over to someone else.

Some students will accept a referral for help more readily than others. How you make the referral can make all the difference in whether it’s accepted and how the student perceives your need to make it.

Be frank with the student about your limitations and ability to help. Most will understand that you don't have the time or training, or simply that this isn’t what your job is. It means a lot to them, though, that you care enough to try to help them. You can also be invaluable in dispelling some of the stereotypes that surround the idea of counseling.

Students may feel they have to be severely disturbed or, at the very least, know exactly what is wrong with them to seek counseling. It can be very comforting for them to know that many students seek counseling, and that often they do so because they’re confused about what they’re feeling or thinking.

There are 3 ways you can make a referral to the University Counseling Center:

  1. You can tell students about the Counseling Center. This tends to be least likely to succeed, as the student may procrastinate in following up on the information.
  2. You can call and make an appointment for the student. This is usually best done while they’re still with you and you can work out a mutually agreeable time for an appointment.
  3. You can come to the Counseling Center with the student, while he or she sets up the appointment. This tends to be the most successful type of referral, in which the student is most likely to follow up. You may even sit in on the first session if you like, with the student’s permission.



If you contact the Counseling Center in a crisis situation, someone will talk with you immediately. We may come to the scene or we may determine that the University Police should respond as soon as possible. From that point on, the situation is usually handled exclusively by counseling staff or the University Police. Once students have dealt with us, we consider them clients and we are bound by confidentiality regarding our conversations with them. With their written permission, we may fill you in on limited details.



Some students are reluctant to go to the Counseling Center because they don’t know what to expect. Upon arrival, all students are asked to fill out an intake form, providing basic information. This is kept as part of the student’s confidential file. Many students wonder if counseling appointments or information will somehow end up on their “permanent record.” It won’t. All sessions are free, private and confidential. Only with the student's written permission or when the student is a danger to self or others is the Counseling Center free to share information with anyone.

Students will meet with a member of the counseling staff for about an hour, or perhaps less. Emergencies may require more time. Students will usually see whoever has the first available appointment when the call is made. However, students may request to speak with a specific member of the staff, if they prefer. During busy times, this may cause a delay in being seen.

During the first session, the counselor will usually try to determine what the problem or issue is and will try to see if counseling is the best approach. The counselor will give a brief explanation of the counseling process and will usually conclude by asking the student if he or she wishes to make another appointment, wait and call if he or she needs to talk more, or would like a referral to another person or agency.

Students often feel better when they find that counseling is voluntary. The Counseling Center doesn’t accept “mandated” referrals for counseling.



Often, students’ problems are disruptive of their academic work and they find it difficult to follow through on their academic responsibilities. They come to faculty with involved tales of interpersonal or family difficulties that they hope will elicit sympathy and an incomplete/extension from the faculty member.

To spare the faculty member the problems involved in separating a legitimate excuse (“beyond the student’s control”) from one that is more manipulative, the University Counseling Center will make a recommendation to you after meeting with the student. The student’s confidentiality will be maintained and we will simply indicate to you whether there is enough evidence to warrant a deviation from the rules. This serves 2 useful purposes: (1) It helps the faculty member who does not want to intrude or have to make an assessment about a student's personal life; and (2) it facilitates the student’s contact with a source of potential help.



There are times when faculty or staff find themselves in need of counseling or psychotherapy, and are unaware of resources available to them. The University Counseling Center is available for an interview to help determine the need for treatment and to give community referrals to University faculty and staff. Our resources don’t allow us to go further to provide counseling for faculty/staff; however, the Employee Assistance Program is another resource.



Working in high-pressure situations such as today’s University setting can often generate stress and interpersonal problems. This can create an atmosphere that is difficult, at best. We have often been called to work with these situations, within a department or office, to ease tension or to resolve difficulties. We’re available for confidential consultation on these matters and offer our services to departments or offices that find themselves in this situation.



Types of student problems University Counseling Center staff have worked with in the past include:

1. Abusive behavior: physical, sexual, emotional

2. Academic stress: lack of motivation, test anxiety, performance

3. Adjustment: loneliness, shyness, homesickness

4. Adult student issues: family conflict, single parent adjustment

5. Aggressive/hostile behaviors and acting out

6. Anxiety, inability to concentrate

7. Change in goals, plans or programs

8. Confusion or lack of direction

9. Depression

10. Disturbing content in student's work (download brochure, 180k .pdf)

11. Eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia

12. Grief reactions

13. Personal loss

14. Problem drinking or drug abuse

15. Relationships; roommate, parental, spouse, dating, family

16. Self-confidence issues

17. Stress management: academic, emotional, physical

18. Student-parent problems

19. Suicidal thoughts and feelings


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Last Updated: 10/6/11