Several years ago there was a survey taken of College Ministers asking in what area did they most need and want help. The overwhelming number one response was counseling. Students have issues for which they are looking for someone who might provide them some help. I classify the issues that students are looking for help with in two categories.
The two categories are crisis and developmental. Crisis is when something negative has happened and they need immediate relief or help in knowing where to turn. Developmental is the decisions of life as to what is next. All of us make developmental decisions, but it seems that college students are faced with the most developmental decisions. That is why it is such a key life point.
I am not a certified counselor or see myself as a professional counselor. But, as a young College Minister looking for help in this area, I was fortunate to be able to do a Masters Degree in Guidance Counseling. Let me share some steps to take in helping those students whom God has given you when they come with questions and concerns.
Listen hard. Don't be in a hurry to talk. Listen. Shut up and listen. A psychiatrist friend of mine said once that many people that came to him did not need a professional counselor, they needed a good friend who would listen to them. He also reminded me to not be afraid of what he called "the pregnant silences".
2. ASK QUESTIONS
The point of asking questions is to get them to understand what they are saying and to draw them out.
3. HELP THEM SUMMARIZE OR PUT INTO WORDS THEIR CONCERN OR WHAT THE KEY ISSUE IS.
The term for this is "Reflection". There are instances when students are able to crystalize what the issue is, there ia relief that comes. I have literally had students express great gratitude to me for my help when all I did whas listen, ask some questions, and help them summarize their concern or put it into words.
4. DISCOVER OR ENUMERATE THE OPTIONS.
If there is a decision to be made, what are the options? Many poor decisions are made because the student did not know or consider ALL the options. The second part of that is getting with people who can give them correct information about their options. Since many developmental or college crisis situations involve school, majors, etc, it is imperative they go to people who can help them know options or proper procedures. It is amazing how many poor decisions are made because, "The guy who is a 7th year junior that lives down the hall said I
5. WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OR RESULTS OF EACH DECISION?
It is easy for a student to make a snap decision without considering any long term consequences. And sometimes, the long term is....next week. What will happen as a result of this decison or action and can the student live with it? Relieving the pain of the moment without considering the consequences can cause greater pain later.
6. MAKE SURE IT IS THEIR DECISON THEY MAKE.
Students will ask you what they should do. It is not your life and you are not the one that will live with the consequences. Resist the huge temptation of telling them what to do. Help and let them make their decision. Again, this is where considering options and future consequences are huge.
7. HOW WILL THIS DECISION AFFECT OTHERS?
Will this decision in any way impact others.....particularly their family? Again, snap decisions are often made without any thought to how it will affect others.
8. REFER STUDENTS TO PROFESSIONALS.
It will not be long before students will come to you with issues way beyond your capacity to help. Don't decide you are just as good as a professional counselor. Refer them to someone who has the training to help. But...be clear that you are not trying to get rid of them. Hear them and you may continue to visit with them throughout the process to express love and support. But, never let them hear you saying you just don't have time to talk with them. This also takes into account that you can quickly spend all of your time with a few students who need lots of emotional help and support. It can short circuit your ministry. Are you really called to be the counselor on campus?
9. REPORT LEGAL ISSUES OR CALL PARENTS.
Confidentiality is a must. However, if something illegal has occurred or been done to the student, you have a responsibility to report it. A second question to consider is, should their parents be made aware? An example: one of my students made a suicide attempt. Her Floor Counselor called University Police who took her to the ER where they pumped her stomach. Her roommate called me. The police then took her back to the dorm. I asked what else would be done and the answer was nothing. I made the decision to call her mom who came and got her and took her home. It was the right decision. Only rarely should parents be informed without the students' permission, but I think there can be exceptions. You must make that tough decision.
Obviously, this is way over simple for difficult situations. But, when students come to trust you, they will come to you with their issues. Hopefully, this can give some framework to your helping them. If you feel totally inadequate to help, are you aware of the counseling options on campus and do you have a relationship to
them? Knowing who to refer to and how to refer is important.