How to Talk to Distressed Students

You can have a profound effect on a student by openly acknowledging that you are aware of his/her distress, that you are sincerely concerned about his/her welfare, and that you are willing to help explore his/her alternatives. We encourage you, whenever possible, to speak directly to a student when you sense that he/she is in academic and/or personal distress.

PRIVACY IS IMPORTANT. Talk to the student in private when both of you have time and are not rushed or 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 comfortable about what to do next.

HONESTY IS IMPORTANT. It is usually best to be frank with a student about the limits of your ability to assist (e.g., limits of time, energy, training, objectivity). It is often reassuring to a student to hear that you respect his/her willingness to talk to you and that you want to support him/her in getting the assistance he/she needs.

STRANGE AND INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR should not be ignored. The student can be informed that such behavior is distracting and inappropriate