Student Life

Counselling and Personal Development


Referring to the Deakin University Counselling Service

From time to time you may come across situations where you believe someone is experiencing difficulties and might benefit from counselling. Below is a summary of indicators that will assist you with the referral process. Often early help can avoid situations worsening and restore confidence.

What might you notice and when might you refer?

  • changes in mood and behaviour
  • social withdrawal and isolation
  • changes in work quality and/or consistency
  • difficulty focusing on a specific topic in conversation
  • difficulty focusing on a specific task
  • disorganised/impaired thinking and/or speech
  • intense emotional expression or lack of emotion
  • expression of feelings of persecution and/or strong mistrust of others
  • violent outbursts
  • signs of excessive alcohol and/or drug use
  • expressions of general unhappiness persisting over a period of weeks
  • references to suicide or irresponsible or self-destructive behaviours
  • frequent class absence or "disappearance" over extended periods
  • gain or loss of a significant amount of weight
  • traumatic or unexpected changes in personal relationships
  • increasing dependence on you or others (for example, hanging around your office or after class).

You might also consider making a referral when:

  • the person expresses a preference (directly or indirectly) to speak with someone else about his or her concerns
  • the problems or requests made are beyond your level of competence and/or comfort
  • there are personality differences that interfere with your ability to work with the person
  • you feel the issues being raised are too personal and/or go beyond the boundaries of your professional role
  • after some time and effort, at a very general level, you feel like you are not making progress in helping this person.

How to make the referral

After the person has told you their story and you think they need professional help you can say something like this:
“From what you have just told me, you have a lot to deal with. (List the elements of their story if you can). Have you thought about talking to a counsellor about this? We have professional counsellors on campus that are free and confidential. I can give you a brochure or you can call from here if you like?”
If they agree give then the card or brochure and /or the phone.

Sometimes after a person has spoken or disclosed to you, they may be reluctant to be referred.  This can feel like a real stumbling block to referral and leave you feeling quite helpless and burdened with their story. Sometimes it can be quite flattering to you and mean you decide to keep helping the person because “they won’t go anywhere else and it is better they talk to me than no one!”

Beware of these situations.

Some tips on what to say when the person says something like:

“I don’t want to have to tell my story again”
“I understand that what you have told me is difficult to talk about, you’ve told me now and it will be easier the next time and different because the counsellor will ask you different questions. They are the professional”

“I feel comfortable talking to you”
“I am glad you have felt that you can talk to me and you certainly have a lot to deal with. I am not a trained counsellor. The best way I can help is to help you get to see a counsellor. Here is the brochure – would you like to take one or call them from here?”

“I don’t know if a counsellor will be able to help”
“Why don’t you give it a go? They are professionals and it is their job to find ways to help you”

In summary don’t be put off by their reluctance. Remain positive and helpful and provide information and opportunities for the person to book in to see a counsellor – if time and role permits, it can sometimes be helpful to walk over with them to make the appointment. It is best not to be the one to make the appointment though.

Ultimately people must make the decision themselves and not everyone will take up the option to see a counsellor. If you are seriously worried about the person, ask their permission to speak with a counsellor for advice, whilst they are with you. You may ring a counsellor afterwards for advice (and sometimes debriefing for yourself if the issues they disclosed were troubling). You may need to call emergency help if the person discloses self harm or harm to others.  This is usually 000 or or your local hospital emergency department.

Taking it further

Contact the Counselling Service

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7th May 2009