For Faculty & Staff

If you are concerned about a student

Teachers and staff are often the first to recognize that a student is in distress. You may notice a sudden or even gradual change in a student’s behaviour, personal hygiene or attendance. A student may behave in a bizarre or inappropriate manner, or perhaps seem to be sad, lethargic or agitated. Often, when unable to complete their work, students will confide to their teachers that they are having personal problems. In such situations, you are in an excellent position to provide information and assistance to students in difficulty and to refer them for professional counselling if needed.

Counselling and Career Development Services offer consultation to faculty, staff, parents and students who are concerned about a Dawson student. In person or over the phone, one of our counsellors will listen to your concerns and help you to identify ways in which you might be able to help the student. If necessary, we can help you to refer the student for professional help, either in our service or in the community.

Tips for referring a student to counselling

  • Speak directly to the student about your concerns, preferably in private. People in distress are almost always receptive to an expression of genuine interest, caring and concern.
  • Describe specific behaviours you have observed (e.g. absence from class, failing grades, nervousness, inappropriate behaviour, etc.) that are causing concern. Clearly stating your observations makes it more difficult for the person to deny that a problem exists and also lets the person know that you care enough to notice.
  • Remember that except in cases of emergency, the decision whether to accept a referral to counselling rests entirely with the individual. If the student resists your suggestions for help, it’s usually best not to push. Suggest that the two of you explore this matter again some time in the future.
  • Many people have negative preconceptions about counselling based upon stereotypes. Educate the student about the process of counselling:
    • Let the student know that counselling is free of charge and voluntary and that he or she can terminate counselling at any time.
    • Reassure the student that counselling is confidential.
    • Let the individual know that counsellors work hard to understand students, to see things from their point of view and to work with them to figure out solutions.
    • Make sure that the student knows that if, for some reason he or she does not feel comfortable with a particular counsellor, a referral to another professional can be made.
  • Assist the student in making an appointment. If he/she is really upset, or you’re worried that he/she may not follow through, suggest that making an appointment immediately. If the student is still hesitant, offer to call on his or her behalf. Some faculty, staff and friends bring students directly to our office when this level of support is deemed necessary. If you feel that a student needs to be seen immediately, we recommend that you call us at local 1206 so that we can arrange for a counsellor to be available.
  • Because people often mistakenly see coming to counselling as a sign of weakness, frame the decision to seek counselling as a mature choice that suggests that the person is not running away from their problems.
  • After the first meeting with a counsellor, you may wish to follow up by asking how things went during the session. If the student is ambivalent about continuing in counselling, some additional encouragement might be helpful. The counselling process is often most difficult at the very beginning and your encouragement may help to get the student over this initial hurdle.
  • Remember that without the student’s consent we cannot tell you about anything that happens in counselling or even whether the student followed through on the referral.

Counselling and Career Development Services
Room 4E.2
Local 1186

(Adapted from the website of The Counselling Center at University of Pittsburgh)



Last Modified: September 11, 2019