The Counseling Center

Reference Guide for Faculty and Staff

The Counseling Center steadily receives student requests for counseling and or psychotherapy services. Approximately 700 students use the center each year, which represents roughly 25 percent of the Oberlin College student body.

Research has shown that approximately 65 percent of the students in each graduating class have used the counseling services provided by the center during their enrollment in college. There is evidence to suggest that high achieving students and those belonging to racial and ethnic minorities, may have particular difficulties in adjusting to college. Counseling services may be especially relevant for such populations.

What is the role of faculty and staff in assisting students who have problems?

Students often experience significant changes in their lives during the course of their education. Such changes, at times, become stressful enough to pose serious threats to the student's academic progress. The stress of academic, social, family, work, and or financial concerns are often interrelated and may result in a student turning to you for help. In fact, anyone who is perceived as knowledgeable, caring, and trustworthy may by a potential resource in times of trouble. A staff or faculty member's willingness to lend special assistance to students undoubtedly is influenced by the personal style and philosophy of the individual.

Situational factors, such as class size, also have a substantial effect on the type of interactions which occur between the faculty and students. Nonetheless, there is ample evidence that staff and faculty members are often in a position to identify students who are troubled. Timely expressions of interest and concern may be a critical factor in helping students solve problems that interfere with academic survival and success.

Is consultation available?

The counseling center staff is able to consult with faculty, staff, and administrators in confidence about issues with direct or indirect impact on student development and well-being.

The Counseling Center provides consultation services for students, staff, professionals, and faculty. These consultations might focus on concerns about a specific student, behavioral problems which occur in the classroom, or other issues that may have important psychological dimensions. The counseling center staff will attempt to respond to requests for consultation as soon as daily schedules permit. When you contact the office, make it clear that the situation is an emergency requiring immediate attention.

When might professional counseling be beneficial?

The reasons that individuals seek help from psychologists are as varied as people themselves. An individual's motives for seeking counseling might range from wishing to solve a particular problem to desiring to enhance their own personal development. In any case, the following indicators might be useful in making a decision about referring a student to the Counseling Center. To prevent possible over-interpretation of a single or an isolated behavior, it is probably advisable to look for clusters of signs which appear at approximately the same time.

1. Stated Need for Help
The desire for assistance in dealing with a problem may be stated directly or indirectly. For this reason, it is important not only to attend to the content of what a student may say, but to understand the intentions and feelings underlying their message. Listening involves hearing the way things are said, noticing the tone used, and observing the expressions and gestures employed. In fact, having someone listen attentively to one's feelings and thoughts is often a cathartic experience which, in and of itself, can result in that individual feeling somewhat better.

2. References to Suicide or Homicide
It is often necessary to distinguish between a theoretical or hypothetical discussion of suicide or homicide and a statement which reflects true personal anguish. However, if an individual talks about or alludes to details of how, when, or where they may be contemplating suicide or homicide, then immediate referral is necessary. Regardless of the circumstances or context, any reference to committing suicide or homicide should be considered serious. To conclude that a student’s suicidal or homicidal talk is simply a bid for attention is extremely risky, and a judgment about the seriousness and possible lethality of a suicidal or homicidal thought or gesture should not be made without consultation with a professional mental health worker. In the case of an actual suicide attempt or homicidal threat, immediately call Campus Safety (440-775-8911), 911, or take the student immediately to Mercy Allen Hospital.

3. Changes in Mood or Behavior
Actions which are inconsistent with an individual’s typical behavior may indicate that they are experiencing psychological distress. An individual who withdraws from usual social interaction, demonstrates an unwillingness to communicate, commits asocial acts, has spells of unexplained crying or outbursts of anger, or demonstrates unusual irritability may be suffering from symptoms associated with a psychological problem.

4. Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression are two of the more common psychological disturbances which can present significant problems for students. Both of these rather common emotional states can impair an individual's normal functioning when these states become prolonged or severe. When an individual's ability to function in a normal manner becomes impaired because of anxiety or depression, some kind of assistance should be recommended.

5. Psychosomatic Symptoms
Individuals who experience tension-induced headaches, nausea, or other physical pains which have no apparent organic cause may be experiencing psychosomatic symptoms. Such psychosomatic symptoms are real for that individual, and so is the pain. Other physical symptoms of possible problems may include a loss of appetite or excessive eating, insomnia, excessive sleeping, or gastrointestinal distress.

6. Traumatic Changes in Personal Relationships
Personal problems often result when an individual experiences traumatic change in personal relationships. The death of a family member or close friend; difficulties in marriage or family relationships, divorce, changes in family responsibilities; and difficulties in other significant relationships can all result in increased stress and psychological difficulties.

7. Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Indications of excessive drinking, drug abuse, or drug dependence are frequently indicative of psychological problems. In the case of a drug overdose or severe drug reaction, call Campus Safety (440-775-8911) or take the student to Mercy Allen Hospital.

8. Career Choice Problems
It is rather common for college students to go through periods of career indecision and uncertainty. Such experiences are often characterized by dissatisfaction with an academic major, unrealistic career aspirations, and or confusion with regard to interests, abilities, or values. A referral to the Career Development Center may be appropriate when it appears that the student needs career direction, skill development, or resources in career decisions. When the problem seems more related to self doubt, identity, or perception of self and or others, a referral to the Counseling Center may be helpful.

9. Learning Problems
Many students find the demands of college-level academic work to be greater than they anticipated. While it is expected that all students will go through some adjustment period in this regard, those who demonstrate a consistent discrepancy between their performance and their potential may be in need of assistance. The office of Student Academic Success Programs is an excellent resource when the student appears to need information, academic skill development, or resources related to learning and academic difficulties. When the problems with academics appear to relate to more personal issues, e.g., perfectionistic orientation, attitudes and perceptions of self doubt, procrastination, depression, or incapacitating test anxiety, the student may benefit from counseling services.

10. Retention Issues
Research has shown that counseling is effective in combating student attrition. Students who are considering dropping out of school, contemplating a transfer to another institution of higher education, or worrying about possible academic failure may find counseling to be a useful resource during their decision-making. Last year, 71 percent of student clients stated that their psychological problems interfered with their ability as a student, and 58 percent of our clients stated that counseling helped them stay in school.

When to refer?

Aside from the signs or symptoms that may suggest the need for counseling, other guidelines may help a staff or faculty member define the limits of their involvement with a particular student’s problem. A referral is usually indicated in the following situations:

  1. A student presents a problem or requests information that is outside your range of knowledge.
  2. You feel that unresolved personality differences between you and the student will interfere with your helping the student.
  3. The problem is personal, and you know the student on other than a professional basis (friend, neighbor, relative, etc.).
  4. A student is reluctant to discuss a problem with you.
  5. You do not believe your discussions with the student have been effective.
How to refer?

When you have determined that a student might benefit from professional counseling or psychotherapy, it is usually best to speak directly to the student in a straightforward fashion that will show your concern for their welfare. It is not advisable to attempt to deceive or trick the student into seeking counseling. Make it clear that this recommendation represents your best judgment based on your observations of the student's behavior. Be specific regarding the behaviors that have raised your concerns, and avoid making generalizations about the individual.

Except in emergencies, the option must be left open for the student to accept or refuse counseling. If the student is skeptical or reluctant for whatever reason, simply express your acceptance of those feelings so that your own relationship with the student is not jeopardized. Give the student an opportunity to consider other alternatives by suggesting that they might need some time to think it over. If the student emphatically says "no," then respect that decision, and again leave the situation open for possible reconsideration at a later time.

If the student agrees to the referral, you or the student may call the Counseling Center to make an appointment. The student’s first meeting at the center will typically be an intake interview in which the student and the psychologist make decisions about the type of help needed. Intake appointments are usually scheduled within a few days of the student’s request to see a psychologist and selected time is set aside each day for crisis walk-ins who do not have appointments. Finally, you should follow up with the student at a later date to show your continued interest even if the student did not accept your attempted referral.

In cases where the student refuses an attempted referral and you continue to be concerned about their welfare, consult the Counseling Center.

In emergency situations involving students who are unwilling or unable to seek help on their own, staff and faculty members may call Campus Safety (440-775-8444).

What about confidentiality?

It is important for members of the college community to understand that the interviews conducted by psychologists are confidential in nature. Information about those interviews, or the content of such interviews, cannot be released except:

  • Upon a student’s written request
  • In circumstances which would result in clear danger to the individual or others
  • When required by law

The Counseling Center adheres very strictly to this policy. If a staff or faculty member is interested in a student’s contact with the Counseling Center, information can best be obtained directly from the student. It should be noted that students are not bound by the same promises of confidentiality that psychologists are obliged to keep.

Are referrals to other sources of assistance possible?

Sources of assistance for students are not limited to professional counseling, but may include referrals to a physician, parents, a resident advisor, or another office on campus. For this reason, knowledge of persons, offices, and agencies that can be of service to the student is of primary importance. Students become discouraged and frustrated when they feel passed along from office to office without receiving the assistance needed.

If you are unsure of the appropriate place to send a student for specific information or help, call the Counseling Center (440-775-8470).

What about emergencies that occur after normal office hours?

Campus Safety, in conjunction with Residential Education and the Deans On Call provide the first line of emergency services after normal office hours. They have access to the on-call psychologist, as well as other resources for responding to emergencies. Campus Safety (440-775-8911) should be contacted in such occasions.

Other emergency services include:

  • Mercy Allen Hospital Emergency Room - 440-775-9110
  • Lorain County (Nord Center) Mental Health Hotline - 800-888-6161