Ask yourself the following questions to help confirm that a referral to the Counseling Center is appropriate. (A “no” to the first question and a “yes” to any of the following questions confirm that discussing a referral is appropriate.)
- Can I help this person in a relatively short period of time considering my responsibilities, my roles and my skills?
- Is this person’s behavior staying the same or getting worse?
- Is this person’s behavior placing anyone, including himself/herself in a life-threatening situation?
- Am I unable to stop worrying about this person and is the worry affecting my mood and my ability to function?
- Have I discussed and asked questions about what is going on in the person’s life as opposed to making an immediate referral?
Myths and Facts
Myth: If I ask the person about depression, suicide, eating habits, etc., things will likely get worse.
Fact: Such conversations rarely if ever make someone’s difficulty worse. Rather, such conversations often motivate the person to seek help. Also, there is no evidence indicating that asking someone if they are suicidal increases the likelihood of following through on such thoughts.
Myth: If I talk with them about a referral, they will be upset with me.
Fact: Others may get upset with us, especially when we are confronting them on behaviors that they do not see as problematic. Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that will happen if _____ gets upset with me?” Then consider the likelihood of this consequence.
Myth: I should only talk with someone about a referral if I’m sure it would be helpful.
Fact: The only way to get a sense of whether or not a referral is appropriate is to talk about it with the person. You have a right to share your concerns especially if the person’s behavior is affecting you.
Myth: If the person does not follow through with the referral, I was of no help.
Fact: Often times it takes more than one referral and more than one person to refer someone to counseling. Realize that even if the person does not follow through this time, conversations about referral and confronting others on negative behavior can have a cumulative positive effect that may be difficult to notice in the short term.
Myth: I have no right to refer this person because I myself am not getting help for the same concern (i.e. drinking, depression, etc.)
Fact: You do not have to be perfect to refer someone. People can be at different stages in their help-seeking or change process. Counseling can be helpful, but there are other options that may also be helpful to someone trying to change.
Myth: If I can just get them to counseling, things will be okay.
Fact: Counseling can be helpful, but the person must choose to participate.
What Can I Say and Do?
The helping process can start with you. What you say and do can be helpful to the person even if he/she chooses not to follow through with your referral. However, it is important to avoid describing counseling as a quick and perfect way to “fix” the problem.
- Plan to meet with the person in a quiet, private place
- Be aware of your values and avoid being judgmental
- If you are worried about how they’ll respond, as most of us are, tell them so (feelings only)
- Tell the person calmly what concerns you about his/her behavior (facts only)
- Tell the person how you feel about having these concerns/seeing these behaviors
- EXPECT RESISTANCE
- LISTEN. Even if the person gets angry or defensive, continue to listen. Listening does not necessarily mean agreeing. Their defensiveness or anger does not necessarily mean you are on the wrong track.
- As the person’s problem or dilemma become clear ask, “What can we do about this?” while having the option of counseling in mind
- Have mental health/health related pamphlets and/or business cards, names and phone numbers on hand
- Mention a counselor by name
- Discuss the option of having the person call to make an appointment from your office or room
- Offer to go with the person to his/her initial appointment
- Set a date to follow-up with the person to discuss what went well and what did not go so well at his/her first meeting
Should I refer to the Counseling Center or to a community resource?
The Counseling Center at Allegheny College is one of several options in the Meadville area for mental health services. Allegheny’s Counseling Center staff can refer students to off-campus services. With your help, the person would ultimately be responsible for choosing which resource, if any, to use.
The Counseling Center offers free, confidential, professional counseling on a variety of issues to all Allegheny students. For more serious illnesses, or in case of a crisis, the Counseling Center can make referrals to appropriate local resources and provide guidelines during an acute event. The Counseling Center has pamphlets on a variety of mental health related issues, a loaning library and limited services of a consulting psychologist and psychiatrist. Students generally wait less than a week for an initial appointment with a counselor.
For more information on off-campus resources, visit our on-line List of Community Resources.
What happens after the person is referred off campus?
Waiting Time: There may be a wait of several days to several weeks before someone can be seen at a community agency or by a community mental health professional. It is important to indicate to the agency or mental health professional whether or not the situation is urgent. Immediate same-day crisis services are available from some agencies.
Cost: Some mental health professionals and agencies in the community provide services without a charge or on a sliding scale to people who are not covered by insurance or who have a limited ability to pay. Those who are covered under their parents’ or guardians’ insurance and provide a community mental health professional or agency with such information will likely result in parents or guardians becoming aware that the student has sought mental health services.
Follow-up: Expect that, due to confidentiality, the agency or mental health professional will likely not share information with you as the referrer. It can be helpful to set up a follow-up meeting with the person you are trying to refer to find out what they liked and did not like about their first appointment. Additionally, doing so can confirm for you that they had in fact followed through on the referral.