How do I recognize when my student needs counseling?

Adapted from an article submitted by Morgan State University

Even when you’re not seeing your student regularly, many parents can hear a difference in the way their sons or daughters sound on the phone — changes in mood, energy, or tone of voice.

Counseling centers are available on every campus or nearby; however, counseling centers will not reach out directly to students unless they pose an immediate threat to themselves or others. Counseling centers seek to respect a student’s right to privacy and self determination in seeking psychological assistance.

How do I know if my student needs a consultation?

Look for changes in your student’s behavior, including appearance, academic functioning, energy level, and overall engagement. For example, missing classes or work may reflect difficulty sleeping at night, trouble being in public, or a fear of disappointing others by low performance. Behavior that is outside the typical range for your student may represent a mental health problem such as depression (“the blues” or something more serious) or Seasonal Affective Disorder and may be reason to consult a counselor.

How to bring it up…

If you become concerned about your son or daughter or if your student appears troubled but does not tell you the reasons, you can bring up the subject in a caring, supportive way. Students who are struggling are often relieved when people they care about notice what’s going on.

Here are some suggestions to start a conversation:

  • I’m concerned about you.
  • I’ve noticed you have been looking (or sounding) tired and it seems as if there’s a lot on your mind lately.
  • Would you like to talk about how things are going?
  • You mentioned that you’ve been missing classes lately. Are you stressed by how much you have to do? 
  • I’m bringing this up because I care about you.
  • Is there anything going on that’s getting in your way?
  • You said you’re not happy with your grades so far this semester. Can we talk about how you can get some help?
  • Is there something that’s keeping you from studying or learning?

How to talk about it…

Whether you broach the subject or your student does, try to make time for an uninterrupted, private conversation. Here are tips for empathic listening:

  • Listen, listen, listen…let your student tell his or her story without interrupting.
  • Don’t try to solve a problem too quickly with advice or reassurance.
  • Let your student express emotion (often it has been building up or bottled up).
  • Let your student know it is alright to talk to you about personal concerns.
  • Avoid questions that can seem like blame or judgment.
  • Say that the situation is one that other students have dealt with (this is almost always true).
  • Ask if your student has found anything that helps with the problem.

Referring to the counseling center

Some students may be reluctant on their own to contact the counseling center. Let them know that hundreds of students talk to counselors every year and counseling is a part of general health care, with a focus on emotional and interpersonal satisfaction. It helps students to hear that seeking counseling is not a sign of weakness or an inability to handle one’s own problems, but rather a sign of strength in seeking out resources. Remind your student that services are confidential.