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Referring a Student to Counselling

Staff who come into contact with students, whether they be academic tutors, departmental secretaries, ancillary staff, residential tutors or welfare advisers have a capacity to impact on the wellbeing of students. Basic tenets of effective support include being 'appropriately available' i.e. being clear about the boundaries of your particular role. It may be useful to spend a little time listening to a student but knowing when to refer them to someone more appropriate is just as essential. For guidance on supporting students, check out this helpful e-learning package, introduced by the Actor and Presenter, Alexander Armstrong: 
Considering referring a student to the Counselling Service

Many concerns presented by students can be usefully dealt with during, for example, a general discussion or a tutorial. However, there are some circumstances where it may be appropriate to refer the student on to the Counselling Service. Guidelines include:

  • if you feel out of your depth with the level of distress being presented to you*
  • if a student is taking up (what feels like) too much of your time with personal issues
  • if you begin to act as something other than your role suggests

*Sometimes a student may present to you in significant distress, or may be talking about, for example, feeling so overwhelmed that they are talking about wanting to 'end it all'. It is very important to remain calm to contain the distress in these situations. It may be helpful to check out the intention of this sort of statement: often people may use this expression when distressed, but they have no intention to act on this, and, when asked, are able to make this clear. If they are experiencing these sort of thoughts, do refer them to the Counselling Service to work this through, and when they call to book after they have registered, you can suggest they request an early appointment if they wish (we run an EAO list (Early Appointment Opportunity) for people who are willing to be contacted to take up an appointment at short notice to use any appointments that may be cancelled). If, however, in the more rare situations, you have concerns that there is serious and imminent threat to personal safety, then you may need to take action. Seek out the guidance of the senior tutor (or equivalent) in your department and make sure you get support to take this forward. See the options of emergency contacts both within the university and external resources. It is important to note that you are not bound by confidentiality in these situations.

The counselling service offers a comprehensive range of resources which you can invite students to consider:

The issues dealt with by the Counselling Service include, for example, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and self harm, loss and bereavement, self- esteem/confidence matters, relationship difficulties, transition stress, abuse, sexual issues, academic stresses and psychiatric situations including suicidal thoughts and intentions. The rates of severity range from mild to extremely severe.

Referring to the Counselling Service

The referral process may begin with a member of staff introducing Counselling Services to the student concerned. It is important to present the suggestion positively. Being aware of what the Counselling Service can offer is useful when making referrals as appropriate information can then be passed on to students. Suggesting students look at the Counselling Service website can be useful in helping them to decide which of the range of resources may best suit them. Students are encouraged to approach the Counselling Service themselves as a measure of their commitment to engage in the counselling process. Please encourage students to prioritise attending appointments - it can be better for them and it also ensures we can streamline our services - missed appointments extend the wait time overall.

NB For face-to-face individual counselling, an appointment may not be immediately available. Students are invited to register and then use our call-to-book system to arrange their appointment. There is a time clock on the website which is updated weekly showing the anticipated turnaround time.