HELP US TO HELP YOUR STUDENT: A Parent’s Guide to the Counseling Center
This guide includes information on:
- services available for your student
- consultation services for you to assist your student
- eligibility for services
- reasons why students come for counseling
- Counseling Center confidentiality
- what to do in a mental health emergency
This link is designed to help parents understand some of the important transitions that take place as a part of the college experience and be aware of how these adjustments may influence the student and the family. Included is information to help you anticipate these changes and begin to consider how you may proactively communicate with your student about these changes. Counseling services available at the University are also briefly described. By providing this information, we hope that parents will be in a better position to support the efforts of their students.
CHANGES YOU MIGHT EXPECT
Most parents report the experience of sending a son or daughter to college as one filled with anticipation, anxiety, confusion, and hope. Before classes begin the student’s first year, many changes are likely to begin. The college years are a time for a student to continue maturing, become more independent, develop new areas of competency, develop healthy peer relationships, and learn how to manage oneself and life in general. What does this mean for you as a parent? Here are some of the messages you may hear:
“Help!”/“Don’t Help!” It is sometimes frustrating for parents to go through the change process with their students, receiving messages that are unclear or incomplete and not knowing how to be helpful. Students may add to the uncertainty by changing rapidly—rejecting your help on Tuesday and actively seeking it on Wednesday. It can be stressful for a parent to hear the student’s report about flunking an exam and then not receive the relieving update when the result were better than the student expected.
As a parent, it can be difficult to know when to help, when to step back, or how worried to get. Usually a parent’s best guideline is to provide a consistent, supportive home base while recognizing that there will be ups and downs in students’ needs, expectations, and feelings. You can follow the lead of the student, keeping in mind that your roll is shifting from coach to fan as you encourage them to work through a problem. Help them balance their thoughts and emotions to make their best decisions. Let them know that you respect their right to make a decision and that you will serve as an advisor when asked. Students often want their family members to recognize their progress toward becoming adults, so remind yourself to notice and appreciate their new skills. And remember to take care of yourself in this sometimes confusing and exhausting process.
“So whose decision is it anyway?” Most parents have a high investment in their student’s decisions. Problems arise, however, when parents are more invested than students. It can be hard to lessen involvement in a student’s decisions out of fear that the student won’t assume responsibility. The irony is that students often don’t step up to the task of being responsible until parents step back. After all, it’s easier to ignore problems when someone else is worrying about them!
Taking a step back can be uncomfortable and at times frightening for parents as you hope the student begins to accept responsibility. There is however, no need to walk away disinterested or frustrated. You can provide a concerned voice (“I’m interested in what you decide, and I know you have to sort this out for yourself.”) and remind yourself that you are helping by working with your student to develop his/her own decision-making skills.
“College is different than I thought it would be.” For many students, coming to Bowling Green State University means finding out what college and life are about. It means learning how to study, how often to study, and how to keep themselves motivated. Academic expectations are more rigorous than in high school; therefore, students accustomed to receiving “A’s” and “B’s” have to work much harder to earn top grades in college courses. Ultimately, they learn when to ask for help and when to resolve issues on their own.
The University experience brings up challenges as well as provides many resources (e.g. counseling, academic advising, career exploration services, and much more) to provide needed support to face those challenges. Parents can remind students that asking questions and using available resources reflect maturity and does not detract from their autonomy or growth as an adult. At the same time, parents and other family members continue to serve key roles in providing needed, consistent support through college and beyond.
“I’m back!” Expect that when your student comes home for semester breaks and summer that there will be a period of adjustment. Your son or daughter has been living as a relatively independent young adult and may be expecting that their newly found independence will be recognized and appreciated by the family. In contrast, parents and siblings continue to live in their usual style and generally expect that the established “house rules” still apply.
It will be especially important in these times of adjustment to work with your student to seek a compromise that honors both the needs of the family and of the young adult student. If your son or daughter is commuting to school from home, consider the ways in which his or her new level of responsibility and independence will be acknowledged in the home.
WHAT THE COUNSELING CENTER OFFERS
Counseling services (individual counseling, group counseling, consultation, crisis intervention, and outreach programming) are available to enrolled BGSU students and are provided at no charge. The Counseling Center services are intended to provide short-term assistance to students with educational, social and personal concerns that may interfere with their academic progress. On-going counseling is by appointment only. However, initial appointments/consultations can occur during our walk-in hours or be scheduled by calling 419-372-2081, whichever is easier for the student. In addition to providing walk-in services our staff will continue to offer emergency services whenever our office is open. Please see our office hours for additional information.
During an initial assessment the student will be referred to an individual or group therapist in the Center or to another agency in the community, depending on the student’s current needs. Sometimes the student’s concerns are effectively addressed in the initial intake session.
If you have questions about how to help your student access services or about a specific situation your son or daughter is facing you may contact the Counseling Center yourself for a consultation with one of our staff members. Do not hesitate to contact us with questions; we are here to help assist you in finding ways to be there for your young adult.
IF YOU KNOW YOUR CHILD WILL NEED COUNSELING
It is not unusual for a student to come to the University having already received counseling at home. Others may not have previous counseling experience but might have a difficult time in making the transition to college. In either of these circumstances, students and parents are advised to use the consultative services of the Counseling Center to get information about the best options available to them. Parents are also reminded that continued support and involvement by them is often crucial to the well-being of the student. While BGSU aims to provide a supportive environment for students, it cannot replace the essential role of family.
WHAT ABOUT CONFIDENTIALITY?
Counseling often involves the disclosure of sensitive personal information. Any information a client shares with Counseling Center staff members is protected by professional ethics and by Ohio law. Information about the counseling a student receives is not released, except upon a student’s written permission, in circumstances which would result in clear danger to the student or others, or as may be required by law.
It is understandable that you may wish to be involved when your son or daughter seeks counseling, but the confidentiality issues described above do not permit such involvement without the consent of the student. Often the best source of information for parents about the counseling process is the student. Beyond that, if more information is desired, the student must sign a written release specifically permitting us to communicate with you.
WHY MIGHT COUNSELING BE SUGGESTED TO A STUDENT?
People seek counseling for many reasons, ranging from a wish to solve a longstanding problem to a desire to enhance their personal growth. Students come in to discuss issues such as roommate conflict, anxiety and stress management, depression, eating disorders, career choices, and family concerns such as divorce and alcoholism. Here are some common instances when counseling might be recommended to a student:
- Fundamental or traumatic changes in personal relationships—such as death of a loved one, divorce or separation in the family, pregnancy.
- Significant changes in mood or behavior—such a withdrawal from others, spells of unexplained crying, or outbursts of anger.
- References to suicide—judgments about the seriousness of a situation is best made in consultation with a mental health professional.
- Anxiety and depression—two of the more common symptoms which can significantly impair a student’s functioning.
- Psychosomatic symptoms—such as tension headaches, loss of appetite or excessive eating, insomnia or excessive sleeping.
- Concern about academics—such as contemplating dropping out of school, worrying about possible academic failure, or considering a transfer to another school.
WHERE TO FIND THE COUNSELING CENTER?
104 College Park Office Building
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, OH 43403
Telephone: (419) 372-2081
Portions of the brochure have been adapted from University of Delaware Center for Counseling and Student Development’s “A Parent’s Guide: Understanding the Transition to College”