College is a time of change, transition, and challenge. This can be exciting and positive but can also create stress and even distress. As a faculty or staff member, you may have contact with students who are in distress and present problems or concerns that you may not know how to cope with or respond appropriately. While the Counseling Center provides consultation to faculty and staff about students in distress, it may helpful to have some tips and information about how to best serve these students.
It is important to acknowledge the student’s distress and express concern and care. Often if a student comes to you with a problem, the student is asking for help and direction. Validating the student’s feelings and exploring alternatives is a good place to start in responding to students in distress. This may involve referring the student to the Counseling Center (see section on making a referral) or other services on campus. In speaking with a student in distress, the following guidelines are recommended:

  • Speak to the student in a private space to help the student feel more safe and free to share concerns
  • Validate the student’s thoughts and feelings. This doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with the student’s perceptions or feel the same way but that you are listening and understanding what the student’s telling you
  • Share your observations of the student in behavioral terms such as “You have been falling asleep in class”, “You haven’t been speaking up as often in class” and express your concerns about this behavior
  • Be honest and direct with the student
  • Ask the student how you can help, what the student needs and explore options and alternatives
  • Refrain from problem solving such as “You should do this” or “Have you tried that?” and instead listen carefully to what the student is saying is distressing him or her and convey your understanding and empathy
  • Know your limits and don’t agree to do things you can’t do and don’t pledge confidentiality as you may need to consult with a faculty or staff member
  • Follow up with the student to see what progress he or she has made, how she or he is doing and what steps have been taken to resolve the issue