Faculty / Staff Referral Guide

Psychologically Troubled Students

A Guide for Faculty and Staff

When a Student Needs Psychological Referral

 A referral for psychological 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.

Some more easily recognizable indicators that a student may be experiencing more stress than he or she can handle include: 

  • 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 expression, apathy, weight loss, sleeping difficulty, tearfulness.

  • Nervousness, agitation, excessive worry; irritability, aggressiveness, non-stop talking.

  • Bizarre, strange behavior or speech.

  • Extreme dependency on faculty or staff, including spending much of his or her time visiting during office hours or other times.

  • Marked change in personal hygiene.

  • 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."

  • 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 center staff member about how to evaluate the situation and take the most appropriate steps.

If an emergency arises during the day, consult one of the staff members at CAPS. After hours, there is a 24-hour hotline (732-235-5700) professionally staffed by the community mental health center. If a student is actively suicidal, do not leave him or her alone, but send someone for help if possible. If a suicide attempt is actually in progress, notify the University Police (911, or from a University phone dial 9 for an outside line and then 911) to arrange medical care and transportation to a hospital.

FACULTY/STAFF EMERGENCY FOLDER.PDF

Psychological Emergencies

One way of introducing the topic of a psychological referral to a student is to summarize to him or her what you understand to be the problem. Emphasize the emotional responses that you have heard from him or her, perhaps with an expression of your concern. 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 the counseling center. How would you feel about that?"


Making The Referral


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 and concerned listener.

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 the counseling center and urge him or her to call.

  2.  Offer to let the student call from your office right then, so that a public commitment will have been made.

  3.  Accompany the student yourself to make sure he or she arrives at the counseling center, and provide the center with any necessary information. The counseling center 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 want help at this point. 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 or others, it is better to try to maintain your relationship with the student rather than to force him or her to go to the counseling center. The idea can be brought up again later.

If you don't expect to speak to a student (e.g., he only e-mails), or you have an urgent concern, the Dean of Students Office can reach out to him/her in a more active way. 

When a student goes to a counseling center (or calls), an appointment will be made for an initial interview. This will usually be held within a day or two from the time the student makes contact, depending largely on flexibility of the student's schedule. In an emergency, as defined either by you or the student, arrangements will be made to see the student that same day, usually within an hour or so.

After The Referral Is Made

 The initial interview is intended to learn what is troubling the student, and to assess what services would be most helpful - e.g., individual or group counseling or referral to a more appropriate service.

If ongoing counseling is appropriate, regular appointments will be scheduled, usually 45 to 60 minutes once a week. 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. 

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 psychologist at any counseling center can be consulted on how to best handle either of these approaches or how to make a referral.

Working With Students Yourself

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 psychologist at any counseling center can be consulted on how to best handle either of these approaches or how to make a referral.

Counseling, ADAP & Psychiatric Services (CAPS) 

CAPS is comprised of Counseling Services, Psychiatric Services and Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). Counseling offices are staffed primarily by clinical or counseling psychologists, social workers, drug and alcohol counselors and psychiatrists with graduate students under supervision seeing some clients after screening. Services are free to students, and strict confidentiality is maintained in accordance with ethical standards and the law. There are two counseling offices in New Brunswick/Piscataway:

Main Office - College Avenue Campus 

17 Senior Street - 848-932-7884
CAPS Director: Jill Richards, Psy.D.

Douglass Campus

61 Nichol Avenue - 848-932-7884
Contact: Diane Simmons, Psy.D.

All students, undergraduate and graduate, should access services through the college avenue office. The offices work together so that students can be referred back and forth as needed.

CAPS offers group and brief individual counseling and psychotherapy. In addition, crisis intervention is available, and a few students are seen for longer term therapy under special circumstances. Students may seek help for a range of problems in their lives, from minor situational crises to longstanding psychological issues that cause major disruptions. In most cases, students needing longer-term care will be referred to other agencies.

Counseling centers also offer various psychological education programs on such topics as assertiveness, effective communication, interpersonal relationships, stress management and test anxiety. Counseling staff are available to consult with faculty, staff, or student groups on organizational issues and to provide training in helping skills, conflict management, or other areas of human relations. Following a traumatic event such as the death of a student, counseling staff can provide post-crisis intervention in various ways. 

Rutgers Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (848-932-3956). Personal, work-related, marital and/or alcohol/drug-related problems can be dealt with. Counseling may also center on relationships, parenting, financial difficulties, or anything that makes it hard to do good work. Where necessary, outside referrals are made. Twenty-four hour crisis/emergency number: (848-932-3956).