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Counseling for Students - Resources for Staff and Faculty

Students can encounter a great deal of stress (e.g. academic, social, family, work, financial, cultural) during their educational experience at Olympic College. Although most cope successfully with the demands of college life, for some the pressures become overwhelming. Students in difficulty have a number of resources available to them. These include close friends, relatives, clergy, and counselors. In fact, anyone who is seen as caring and trustworthy may be a potential resource in time of trouble.

We at Counseling Services believe there is a powerful rationale for faculty and staff to intervene when they encounter a student in distress. As a faculty member, your expression of interest and concern may be a critical factor in helping a struggling student reestablish the emotional equilibrium necessary for academic survival and success.

The Disruptive Student

This student may engage in disruptive behavior for many reasons. Causes for the behavior may or may not be due to emotional distress. If after repeated warnings which may include asking the student to leave class, change seats, etc., then the best resource for them will be the Vice President Student Support & Achievement rather than counseling. Just and fair conduct measures which hold the student accountable for behaviors that violate campus or community standards are often just what the student needs to regain self-control and to have a positive developmental outcome.

The Distressed Student

At one time or another, everyone feels depressed or upset. Although it's not unusual to feel anxious, depressed, or confused, these feelings become significant when they are recurrent or extreme. But we can identify three general levels of distress which, when present over a period of time, suggest that the problems the person is dealing with are more than the "normal" ones.

Level 1

These behaviors, although not disruptive to others, may indicate that something is wrong and that help may be needed:

  • Serious grade problems or a change from consistently good grades to poor performance;
  • Excessive absences, especially if the student had previously demonstrated good, consistent class attendance;
  • Unusual or markedly changed pattern of interaction, i.e., totally avoiding participation, becoming excessively anxious when called upon, dominating discussions, etc.;
  • Other characteristics that suggest the student is having trouble managing stress successfully include a depressed, lethargic mood; being excessively active and talkative (very rapid speech); swollen, red eyes; marked change in personal dress and hygiene; sweaty (when room is not hot); and falling asleep.

Level 2

These behaviors may indicate significant emotional distress, but also a reluctance or inability to acknowledge a need for more personal help:

  • Repeated requests for special consideration, such as deadline extensions, especially if the student appears uncomfortable or highly emotional disclosing the circumstances prompting the request;
  • New or regularly occurring behavior which pushes the limits of decorum and which interferes with the effective management of the immediate environment;
  • Unusual or exaggerated emotional response which is obviously inappropriate to the situation.

Level 3

These behaviors usually show a student who is in obvious crisis and who needs emergency care:

  • Highly disruptive (hostile, aggressive, violent, etc.)
  • Inability to communicate clearly (garbled, slurred speech, unconnected or disjointed thoughts);
  • Loss of contact with realty (seeing/hearing things which "aren't there," beliefs or actions greatly at odds with reality or probability);
  • Overtly suicidal thoughts (referring to suicide as a current option);
  • Homicidal threats.

If you are new to teaching or could use some reminders, these web resources have simple ready to use techniques. The goal is to create the classroom environment you want on the first day. Consultation with Counseling Services is available, especially if you are concerned about a student who is exhibiting characteristics of emotional distress. Remain calm and formulate a plan.

  • Making students aware of the services available may encourage self-referrals and increase a proactive mind-set.
  • If you observe behaviors that concern you, assess the situation, its seriousness, and the potential for a referral;
  • Determine resources, both on and off campus, so you can suggest the appropriate help available to the student;
  • Discuss the best ways to make the referral, if appropriate;
  • Clarify your own feelings about the student and consider the ways you can be most effective.

If you choose to approach a student you are concerned about, or if a student asks you for help with personal problems, here are some suggestions that might make the experience more comfortable for you and more helpful for the student.

  • Talk to the student in private when both of you have time and are not rushed and preoccupied. Give the student your undivided attention. It is possible that just a few minutes of effective listening on your part may be enough to help the student feel confident about what to do next.
  • Express your concerns in behavioral, nonjudgmental terms (e.g., "I've noticed you've been absent from class lately and I'm concerned").
  • Listen to thoughts and feelings in a sensitive, non-threatening way. Communicate understanding by repeating back the gist of what the student said. Let the student talk.
  • Avoid judging, evaluating, or criticizing. Respect the student's value system, even if you don't agree with it.
  • Don't get hooked into arguing with them. Let them vent their feelings and then ask them if they are ready to discuss the problem.
  • Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Stay physically centered. If standing, sit down and try to get the student to sit, also.
  • Use a quiet voice in addressing them. Try to really listen and reflect what they are trying to tell you.
  • Suggest that you find a quiet, private place to discuss this.
  • Express your own dismay and tell them that you can't continue to discuss the issue while they are yelling at you.

There are situations when making a referral is the best option for both you and the student. If you believe the issues are beyond your comfort level or your time is limited, then the student's problems are better handled through services such as Counseling Services, Access Services, the Financial Aid office, the Registrar's Office, or the Vice President for Student Services' office.


Some people accept a referral for professional help more easily than others do. Let the student know that you believe it is necessary for you to refer them and that is nothing wrong with seeking assistance. Be frank with students about your own limitations of time, energy, training, objectivity, etc. but with your willingness to get them help. The Counseling Referral Form allows you to refer students to all the counselor at once.


For less severe emotional distress when no immediate harm seems likely:

Counseling Services appointments are made by calling 360.475.7530 or by email: counselingservices@olympic.edu.

To consult with a specific counselor or to ask for immediate assistance:

  • John Babbo
  • Teresa Jones, Ph.D.
  • Anthony Carson
  • Trish Christean
  • Vice President Student Support & Achievement (Dr. Damon Bell – Student Conduct Code, Harassment) 360.475.7476

Other community resources when students exhibit severe behaviors:

  • Olympic College Security
  • Emergency Services (24 Hours - Crisis Response Team - Involuntary Commitment)
  • Crisis Clinic of the Peninsulas (24 Hours)
    360.479.3033 or 1.800.843.4793
  • Kitsap Sexual Assault Center (24 Hours)