It’s important for all of us to know when and how to refer a student when we don’t fully have the tools and resources to help them. Here are a few tips on how to set up these types of conversations… 

  • If you can gather your thoughts before the conversation, think over the specific things you’d like to say. Maybe even jot them down.
  • Try to find a time that will be free from distractions and when neither party is tired, upset or not feeling well.
  • Find a quiet spot to talk.
  • Focus the conversation on specific concerns related to behavioral observations. (For example, “I’m really worried about the thoughts you expressed during the last meeting we had.”) Express these concerns directly and honestly.
  • Really listen to the student so you can best understand their concerns. Don’t assume that you know what they’re experiencing, as emotions can often be multi-layered.
  • Avoid placing labels on the student, making judgments about the student or the behavior, or being critical about your observations.
  • Listen carefully to what the student has to say in response and try to see the issue from their point of view without necessarily agreeing or disagreeing.
  • Offer specific ideas about what the student might do. When possible, try to tie the recommendations to something specific that the student said. Some examples include offering to walk the student over to the counseling center on the spot, sharing a list of campus resources, suggesting the student consider seeking out a professional opinion, etc.
  • Be hopeful about what these suggestions might be able to do to help (such as a counselor being helpful in sorting through thoughts and feelings) without making promises.
  • Express that getting help takes strength and courage and that you admire them.
  • Keep in mind that a student may dismiss your concerns and recommendations. Regardless, follow up to see where they’re at and how they’re doing.

Find ready-made training tools such as this one within the Support Students’ Mental Health and Well-Being in-service and others inside our NEW 60-Minute In-Service and Staff Development Sessions training guide.