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How to Make a Referral

A Guide for Faculty, Staff, and Students on Making a Referral to the Counseling Center

When to Refer:

In cases when you are not sure whether or not to refer, please call the Counseling Center and ask to speak to a counselor regarding your concerns. The Counseling Center staff is available to assist with decisions about how to be most helpful.

Sometimes referral is indicated and sometimes it is a matter that may best be addressed in another manner. Aside from the signs or symptoms that may suggest the need for counseling, there are other guidelines that may help you define the limits of your involvement with a particular student's problem. A referral is usually indicated in the following situations:

  1. You might note emotional or behavioral indicators that would suggest that the student is under stress.
  2. A student presents a personal problem or requests information about how to address the problem in situations that are outside your range of knowledge. The problem is more serious than you feel comfortable handling.
  3. A student is reluctant to discuss a problem with you for some reason.  
  4. You have exhausted your resources in trying to be of help and believe the student needs more assistance than you have been able to provide.

If you are in doubt about whether or not to refer a student to counseling, or would like suggestions on how to approach a particular student, please call the Counseling Center and speak with one of our full-time staff. A telephone consultation may help sort out relevant issues, explore alternative approaches and identify other resources which may better serve the student's needs.

How to Refer:

  • Approach the student you are concerned about in a gentle, caring, and non-judgmental way.
  • State specifically why you are concerned. Describe behaviors, then suggest a visit to the Counseling Center.
  • Normalize the process of seeking help.
  • Remind students that they don’t have to have a "deep dark" problem nor does the problem need to reach crisis proportions for them to benefit from professional help. We’d rather have someone come in with a small problem than wait for it to become a big one.
  • When referring students to the Counseling Center, suggest it as a possible resource rather than telling a student to go because he or she "needs help" or is "causing a problem" for others.
  • Reluctant students might also be relieved to know that they can just come in for Walk-in and speak to a counselor on a one-time basis without making a commitment to on-going counseling.
  • If you want to offer extra support you can have the student call the Counseling Center from your room or office, and/or you can offer to accompany the student to his or her first session.
  • Remind the student that the first 6 visits are free and $12.00 for subsequent sessions. The center uses a short-term counseling model. Most individuals use the center for less than 15 sessions. The same service in the private sector can cost between $75 and $125 per hour.
  • Inform the student that Counseling Center staff try to help people help themselves.
  • Remember that many students will feel ambivalent about seeking help from any source including the Counseling Center. You may need to remind them that, "What you’re currently doing to solve your problems isn’t working."
  • Remind the student that they don't always have to know what's wrong before asking for help.
  • The ambivalence can often be characterized by statements such as, "I don’t want to go there because my problem isn’t that serious." Or, "I don’t want to go there because I think my problems are too serious and they can’t help me." In either of the two preceding cases, the person you are trying to refer may be fearful of the unknown. A direct response to such objections can sometimes be helpful. "If your problem is not appropriate for the Counseling Center, they can make sure that you are directed to the right place."

How do I know if this person received counseling?

Ask that person. Because counseling is confidential, we cannot inform you if the person of concern came to the Counseling Center or reveal what they talked about. Therefore, the best way to find out if the person came to the Center is to follow-up with this individual yourself.

If you feel that it is vital for you to learn whether this student came to the Center from the counselor, ask the student to sign a release of information form when they are here, giving us permission to confirm with you that they came.

Urgent Referrals

When a student needs to be seen right away, we make every effort to see them as soon as possible. Call and communicate with the receptionist that there is a student who is interested in coming for counseling and needs to be seen right away. If the student makes the appointment in your presence it is important that we know the urgency and specifics of the situation. Speak with a counselor about your referral and provide the counselor with a description of the situation that has led to your concern.

While it is important to be helpful to others, we cannot make their decisions for them, and counseling should always be a personal choice. Occasionally even your best efforts to encourage a student to seek counseling will be unsuccessful. If the student resists referral and you remain uncomfortable with the situation, contact your department chair, the Counseling Center, or the Dean of Students.

Oakland University Counseling Center

Graham Health Center, East Wing
408 Meadow Brook Road
Rochester, MI 48309-4452
(location map)
(248) 370-3465

Monday - Friday: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.