Skip to Main Content

Responding to a Student's Request for Professional Help

When to refer:

In many cases of student distress, faculty and staff can provide adequate help through: empathic listening, facilitating discussion by asking open-ended questions, instilling hope, acknowledging concerns, and conveying acceptance.


In some cases, however, students need professional help to overcome problems and to resume effective functioning. The following signs indicate a student may need counseling:

  • The student continues to appear or states they continue to be distressed.
  • The student becomes increasingly isolated, unkempt, irritable, or disconnected.
  • The student's academic or social performance deteriorates.
  • The student's behavior reflects increased hopelessness or helplessness.
  • You find yourself doing ongoing counseling rather than consultation or advising and are pulled in directions with which you are uncomfortable.
  • The student shows significant and marked changes in behavior and mood.
  • Your personal boundaries have been tested repeatedly.

How to refer:

  • Speak to the student in a direct, concerned and caring manner.


  • Because students may initially resist the idea of getting outside help, be caring and clear about your judgment that counseling or other options would be helpful. Also, be clear about the reasons that you are concerned ("I am worried about you doing okay in school and I am bringing this up because I care about your academic progress."). It is often best to focus on the behavior of concern.


  • Be knowledgeable in advance about the services and procedures of the Counseling Center. Check our website or call (904) 620-2602. After regular business hours, call 904-620-2602 and select option #2 to speak with a counselor by phone.


  • Offer to help them set up their initial appointment. Suggest that the student call to make an appointment with the Counseling Center by calling (904) 620-2602 with you present in the room. Inform them of the location (Building 2, Founders Hall, Room 2300). You can always walk them over to the office.


  • Afterwards, make notes of your interaction with the student for possible future use.


  • If you need help in deciding whether or not it is appropriate to make a referral, call the Counseling Center (904) 620-2602 for a consultation.


  • Counseling Center staff will also come to your department's meetings to speak further regarding referrals and procedures/services. Please call (904) 620-2602 to schedule.

A Note on Confidentiality

UNF offices that consult with students on a confidential basis include the Counseling Center, the Victim Advocacy Program in the Women's Center, Student Ombudsman, and Student Health Services. As a non-clinician, you can always promise a student your greatest discretion but not confidentiality. Confidentiality is associated with the legal concept of privileged communication which cannot be promised unless you are a clinician, a member of the clergy or the person's legal representative.


All clinical contact with the Counseling Center is privileged and confidential. While the staff is responsive to the needs and concerns of the UNF community in regard to individual students, no information regarding a student's treatment will be divulged to anyone including parents, faculty or staff of the University of North Florida without the student's written consent. However, by law, a clinician must report any knowledge of suspected child, elder or other dependent abuse, or of risk to an individual's physical safety learned in the therapeutic environment. In addition, a clinician must disclose records if ordered by a court to do so. In these situations, the clinician will only reveal information as specifically required or needed.