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Academics > Advising > Dealing with Students' Personal Problems
Advising Manual.

Dealing With Students' Personal Problems

Developmental advising is about forming a relationship as a human being with your advisees.  When they present you with difficult problems, you are then able to draw on that relationship to give them sympathy and comfort, and persuade them to go to the appropriate person for help. If you listen and then refer them on effectively, you will have done your advisee a tremendous service. And remember: when in doubt, call the Dean of Students Office to talk it over, since you certainly should not tackle difficult situations on your own.

Faculty are not expected to provide personal counseling. Being human, however, you are already "trained" to deal appropriately with the emotional issues of your advisees. When a student chooses to talk to you about a personal problem, you should congratulate yourself (instead of experiencing a sinking heart) for having done a good job as an adviser; you have succeeded in establishing a relationship of trust and confidence. 

When a student tells you about a personal problem, here are suggestions for how to proceed:

  • Hear the student out.

  • It may have taken considerable courage to talk to anyone about the matter. Revealing the problem may be the first essential step toward finding a solution.

Listen and respond as a compassionate human being. 

Clarifying questions are often helpful since there probably is no simple answer; refrain from offering advice or suggestions unless specifically asked.  Let the student know you have heard what has been said.

Acknowledge the emotions that the student is expressing.

Be careful not to reveal negative reactions. 

Explain that this is not your area of expertise, but that you will listen, help as much as you can, and/or try to get them help from someone who is an expert in the area.

When the situation is appropriate, refer the student on.

  • Give the student several options of places and/or people that s/he can go to for assistance. If you’re not sure, call the Dean of Students’ Office (2114) for advice. In most cases of personal and emotional turmoil, the student should be referred to the Bridgeway counselors (2114) that MC keeps on campus forty hours per week.  Ask if he/she has talked to a counselor before, and if so, what the experience was like. If the student has reservations about seeing a counselor, you may have to dispel these general misgivings before s/he is willing to make an appointment to see a counselor.  If the student agrees to see a counselor, It is often helpful to make the appointment from your office right away or, if you’re uncomfortable with this, to refer the matter to the Dean of Students’ Office immediately; they will make the appointment for the student.

  • It may help if you offer to make the initial contact and explain the situation. Ask the student to arrange the meeting right there so they know you truly believe this should be their next course of action. 

  • Let the student know they can always come back to speak with you.

Make sure you follow up in some way.

Perhaps you can rely on bumping into the student around campus and remembering to ask "how are things going now?"; perhaps it is sufficient to say, "Stop by and let me know how your appointment went.”  Still, you may need to be very directive and establish a formal appointment time for him/her to report back to you. 

Report your concerns to the Dean of Students Office if you feel there is a possibility the student may harm him/herself or someone else.

This is a legal and moral responsibility.  If the Dean and Associate Dean of Students are not available, discuss this with the Dean of Students Office Secretary, who can help you get connected with the appropriate person.  A student in this condition (even if you are not sure how serious the situation is) should not be left alone, even if it is a major inconvenience to you.

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