Health & Safety

How do I recognize when my student needs counseling?

Adapted from an article submitted by Morgan State University

Even when you’re not seeing your son or daughter regularly, many parents can hear a difference in the way their sons or daughters sound on the phone-changes in mood, energy, or tone of voice.

Counseling centers are typically available on every campus or services are located nearby; however, counseling centers will not reach out directly to your student unless they pose an immediate threat to themselves or others. Counseling centers seek to respect your student’s right to privacy and self determination in seeking psychological assistance.

When to consider a consultation

Look for changes in your student’s behavior, including appearance, lower academic functioning, level of energy or interest. For example, missing classes or work may reflect difficulty sleeping at night, trouble being in public, or a fear of disappointing others by a low performance. Behavior that is out of the typical range for your student may also represent a psychological problem. This change in behavior may also represent a general sense of depression (the blues) and may be reason to consult a counseling center.

How to bring it up…

If you become concerned about your son or daughter or if your student appears troubled but does not tell you the reasons, you can broach the subject in a caring, supportive way. It’s often a relief to students having difficulties to know that people they care about notice what’s going on.

Here are some suggestions to start a conversation:

  • I’m concerned about you.
  • I’ve noticed you have been looking (or sounding) tired and you seem as if there’s a lot on your mind lately.
  • Would you like to talk about how things are going for you?
  • You mentioned that you’ve been missing classes lately, and that can set you back a lot.
  • I’m bringing this up because I care about you.
  • Is there anything going on that is getting in your way?
  • I’m concerned about how you are doing.
  • Your grades are lower than usual this semester.
  • Is there something that’s keeping you from studying or learning?

How to talk about it…

Whether you broach the topic or your student does, it is often very helpful to talk about a student’s concern to the extent you feel comfortable. Make sure to have privacy and some time without interruption. Here are some tips for empathic listening:

  • Listen, listen, listen…let your student tell his or her story without interrupting.
  • Don’t try to solve a problem too quickly with advice or reassurance.
  • Let your student express emotion (often it has been building up or bottled up).
  • Let your student know it is alright to talk to you about personal concerns.
  • Avoid questions that can seem like blame or judgment.
  • Show that the situation is one that other students have dealt with (if that is true).
  • Ask if your student has found anything that helps with the problem.

Referring to the Counseling Center

Some students may be reluctant on their own to contact a counseling center. You can address this reluctance by letting them know that hundreds of students use counselors every year and counseling is a part of general health care, with a focus on emotional and interpersonal satisfaction. It helps students to hear that seeking counseling is not a sign of weakness, “craziness,” or an inability to handle one’s own problems, but rather a sign of strength in seeking out resources. It is helpful to remind the student that services are confidential.

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s weekly eNewsletter for additional tips, advice and support. You can also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow college parents by joining our College Parents’ Facebook group.