The reasons that individuals seek help from counselors 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 his/her own personal development. The following indications can be useful in making a decision about referring an individual for counseling. To prevent possible overreaction to a single or an isolated behavior, it is advisable to look for clusters of signs which appear at approximately the same time.
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 to attend to both the content of what a student is saying and the possible feelings and intentions underlying his/her message. Listening involves hearing the way things are being said, noticing the tone used, and observing the expressions and gestures employed.
Changes in Mood or Behavior
Actions that are inconsistent with an individual's normal behavior may indicate that he/she is experiencing psychological distress. An individual who withdraws from usual social interaction, demonstrates an unwillingness to communicate, commits antisocial acts, has spells of unexplained crying or outbursts of anger, or demonstrates unusual irritability may be suffering from symptoms associated with a psychological problem.
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, when they become prolonged or severe, can impair an individual's normal functioning. When an individual's ability to function in a normal manner becomes impaired due to anxiety or depression, some kind of assistance should be recommended.
References to Suicide
If an individual alludes to details of where, when, or how he/she may be contemplating suicide, then immediate referral is necessary. Regardless of the circumstances or context, any reference to committing suicide should be considered serious. To conclude that a student's suicidal talk is simply a bid for attention is extremely risky. A judgment about the seriousness of the suicidal thought or gesture should not be made without consultation with a professional counselor.
Physical distress or complaints which seem to have no apparent cause may be indicative of psychological or stress-related problems. Some physical symptoms of these problems may include a loss of appetite or excessive eating, insomnia or excessive sleeping, or gastrointestinal distress.
Traumatic Changes in Personal Relationships
Personal problems often result when an individual experiences traumatic changes 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.
Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Excessive drinking, drug abuse, or drug dependence are almost always indicative of psychological problems.
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. However, chronic indecisiveness or choice conflict can be a debilitating experience, and many students need assistance in developing alternative goals when previous decisions prove to be in need of revision.
Many students find the demands of college-level academic work to be greater than anticipated. While it is expected that all students will go through some adjustment periods, those who demonstrate a consistent discrepancy between their performance and their potential may be in need of assistance. Frequent absences, failure to complete assignments, and inattentiveness in class are problems which might have a psychological/emotional basis and thus might be appropriate for personal counseling.
The counseling center gets occasional requests regarding testing for learning disabilities. We do not have on staff a professional who has both the specialized skills and the required time that is necessary to conduct such assessments. We can however, provide referral information on where diagnostic evaluations can be obtained.