Referral Difficulties

If you have been assisting a student in difficulty you might eventually begin to wonder, “Am I in over my head?” Perhaps you've already tried to refer them for help at the Engle Center or directed them to other resources, but they have not followed through with your suggestions.

Many times students are not yet ready to talk, or see the situation as primarily academic and therefore best handled by the faculty member.  Or they feel so comfortable with the relationship they have developed with the educator that they are reluctant to take the risk of telling their story to someone else.  However, your role as an educator does not obligate you to provide non- educational assistance to a distressed student. If you feel that what your student needs is beyond your level of comfort, skill or has become an excessive drain on your resources, it is appropriate to set firm limits on what you can and cannot do to help them.

However , if you choose to continue your discussions with the student ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you and the student believe the talks are helpful?  Is the situation getting better?
  • Do you believe the situation and problems mentioned are within your ability and background to appropriately assist the student?
  • Are you able to commit to the student in this way?  Consider the time commitment, your availability, emotional investment and the potential impact on your other students.
  • Are you in danger of developing a “dual relationship” with the student that could lead to future complications?

It is appropriate to establish firm boundaries with students and let them know when you are no longer the one who can best help them.  Let the student know that referring them to the Engle Center or to other helping professionals does not mean that you will have no further contact with them.  You will continue to be concerned and caring in a way that is appropriate for you. Giving your student a clear statement about what you can and cannot do, along with referral information pointing them to other professional sources of assistance, is best for the student and also best for you.