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Why Are Counselors Important on Campus?

From the College Counseling Advocacy Booklet of the American College Counseling Association

“College is a very unique time in a person’s life. Some students are very young and away from home for the first time. Other students may be going back to school with the responsibility of a family to start a new career. Inevitably, some students will face life challenges such as stress, academic difficulties, relationship issues, etc., that if dealt with appropriately, can facilitate emotional growth & maturity."

Counseling services' staff is trained and prepared to help students with a wide range of concerns they encounter during college years, including roommate or relationship problems, depression, career interests, academic concerns & many other types of problems in-between. Our goal is to promote greater wellness among the student population.

Dealing with Students in Distress

Crisis vs. Stress

(Adapted from the University of Texas at Austin ’s Counseling and Mental Health Center )

There is a difference between students who are in a serious mental health crisis and those who are suffering from lower levels of stress. Understanding the difference will help you respond appropriately to the situation.

Students with a Serious Mental Health Crisis

A crisis is a situation in which an individual's usual style of coping is no longer effective, and the emotional or physiological response begins to escalate. As emotions intensify, coping becomes less effective, until the person may become disoriented, non-functional, or attempt harm. If a student is in a serious mental health crisis, you might see or hear the following:

  • Suicidal statements or suicide attempts
  • Homicidal threats, written or verbal, or attempted homicide or assault
  • Destruction of property or other criminal acts
  • Extreme anxiety resulting in panic reactions
  • Inability to communicate (e.g., garbled or slurred speech, disjointed thoughts)
  • Loss of contact with reality (e.g., seeing or hearing things that aren't there, expressing beliefs or actions at odds with reality)
  • Highly disruptive behavior (e.g., hostility, aggression, violence)

What To Do When You Suspect a Serious Crisis

If you believe there may be imminent danger of harm to a student or someone else, as evidenced by several of these crisis symptoms, immediately call Public Safety for assistance at (678) 466-4050. If you need help in assessing the situation, call Counseling Services at (678) 466-5406.

Students with Stress

At one time or another, everyone feels depressed or upset. However, there are warning signs for stress, which, when present over time, suggest that the problems a person is dealing with may be a cause for concern. In these circumstances, you might see or hear the following:

  • Uncharacteristic changes in academic performance
  • Uncharacteristic changes in attendance at class or meetings
  • Depressed or lethargic mood
  • Hyperactivity and/or rapid speech
  • Social withdrawal
  • Marked change in personal dress, hygiene, eating and/or sleeping routines
  • Repeatedly falling asleep in class
  • Requests for special consideration, especially if the student is uncomfortable talking about the circumstances prompting the request
  • New or recurrent behavior that pushes the limits of decorum and that interferes with the effective management of your class, work team, etc.
  • Unusual or exaggerated emotional response to events

If you choose to approach a student you are concerned about or if a student seeks you out, here are some suggestions, which might be helpful:

  • Talk to the student in private when both of you have time and are not rushed or preoccupied. Give the student your undivided attention. It is possible that just a few minutes of effective listening on your part may be enough to help the student feel comfortable about what to do next.
  • Be direct and non-judgmental. Express your concern in behavioral, nonjudgmental terms. Be direct and specific. For example, say something like "I've noticed you've been absent from class lately, and I'm concerned," rather than "Why have you missed so much class lately?"
  • Listen sensitively. Listen to thoughts and feelings in a sensitive, non-threatening way. Communicate understanding by repeating back the essence of what the student has told you. Try to include both the content and feelings. For example, "It sounds like you're not accustomed to such a big campus and you're feeling left out of things." Remember to let the student talk.
  • Refer. Point out that help is available and that seeking help is a sign of strength. Make some suggestions about places to go for help (see the Referral Section below for ideas). Tell the student what you know about the recommended person or service.
  • Follow up. Following up is an important part of the process. Check with the student later to find out how he or she is doing. Provide support as appropriate.


(Adapted from the University of Washington Counseling Center)

Even though you may be genuinely concerned about students, and interested in helping them, you may find yourself in situations where it would be better to refer them to other resources. Circumstances that might necessitate a referral include:

  • the problem is more serious than you feel comfortable handling;
  • you are either extremely busy, or are experiencing stress in your own life, and are unable or unwilling to handle other requests for help;
  • you have talked to the student and helped as much as you can, but further assistance is needed;
  • you think your personal feelings about the student will interfere with your objectivity;
  • the student admits that there is a problem, but doesn’t want to talk to you about it;
  • the student asks for information or assistance that you are unable to provide.

Some students may resist the idea of seeking professional help. Even though you may think it important that they meet with a professional, you cannot force them, nor should you trick them, into coming into Counseling Services or any other agency. Usually, you will get the best results by being honest. Let the student know your reasons for making a referral (e.g., lack of time, conflict of interest, limited training), and emphasize your concern that they do get help from an appropriate source. It may help them to know that you are supportive of their efforts to seek help.

Counselors, psychologists, and/or psychiatrists commonly are misinterpreted as working only with “crazy” people. Reassure the student that counselors work with people who have a wide range of concerns, from roommate or relationship problems, to depression, career choice, and academic concerns, with many other types of problems in-between. It also may help them to know that they don’t have to be able to know exactly what’s wrong before they seek assistance.

Emergency Assistance and Referral Contact Information

Counseling & Psychological Services (678) 466-5406
Public Safety (678) 466-4050
Southern Regional Medical Center (770) 991-8000
Immediate Emergency 911