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The Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) Staff looks forward to consulting with you regarding students, outreach and programming, and other topics you would like to discuss. You can reach us at 209.946.2315 extension 2.

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Information for Faculty/Staff

We look forward to working with you to help Pacific students achieve a sense of well-being and maximize their educational experience.  If you would like to speak to someone about a student of concern and it is during regular business hours please call 209.946.2315, extension 2 and ask to speak to an available Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) Staff member about your concern. If it is after hours please call the same number (209.946.2315, extension 2) and leave a message. We will return your phone call within two business hours. Please see Working with the Emotionally Distressed Student for information about specific concerns that may arise.

CAPS also offers outreach and programming on a variety of topics. Please contact us at 209.946.2315, extension 2 and ask to speak with our outreach coordinator, Dr. Pamela Wrona, for more information.

In addition to this webpage, CAPS also offers an interactive training called Kognito for faculty, staff, and students on all three campuses.

Working with the Emotionally Distressed Student

The following materials have been developed as a result of the combined efforts of counseling centers which comprise the Organization of Counseling Center Directors in Higher Education (OCCDHE). They are designed to assist faculty and staff in identifying and intervening with students who are in distress.

I. Faculty and Staff Role in Helping the Emotionally Distressed Student

II. Specific Guidelines for Helping Distressed Students

III. Warning Signs of Potentially Suicidal Behavior


I. Faculty and Staff Role in Helping the Emotionally Distressed Student

College years bring fond memories to many, yet thinking back carefully, we may also remember those days as having been quite stressful. Financial worries, leaving home and being on our own for the first time, and trying to do well academically contribute to stressful transitions to college life. Many Pacific students experience these struggles. At this age, students are involved with their development as independent adults, to varying degrees. Most are in the process of developing careers, relationships, life goals, and their own individual identities. Situational and developmental problems frequently interfere with academic performance. In the college community, about 10 percent of the students may be distressed by depression, acute anxiety, drug or alcohol abuse, or more serious conditions. We have developed a campus resource list that addresses many of these issues.

Many students realize that stress is interfering with their personal and academic goals and seek counseling on their own. However, faculty, teaching assistants, and university staff are often the first to recognize that a student may not be functioning well academically and / or emotionally. Students may turn to you because of your position and the respect they hold for you as a faculty or staff member. Faculty / staff often handle these difficult situations themselves. While the number of such contacts may be small, their significance is not.

You are in an excellent position to spot an emotionally troubled student. This may be a result of your position as department secretary, dean, receptionist, or faculty. You may observe that at certain times of the year, particularly during examinations and holidays, students experience increased anxiety. The student's behavior, especially if it is inconsistent with your experience of them, could well constitute an inarticulate attempt to draw attention to their plight, a "cry for help."

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Signs of Distress

  • Nervousness
  • Agitation
  • Increased irritability, undue aggressive or abrasive behavior
  • Excessive procrastination, poorly prepared work
  • Infrequent class attendance, little or no work completed
  • Depression, lack of energy
  • Marked change in personal hygiene
  • Withdrawal, fearfulness
  • Dependency (e.g., the student who hangs around you or makes excessive appointments to see you)
  • Indecisiveness, confusion
  • Bizarre, alarming, or dangerous behaviors
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Guidelines For Interaction

Openly acknowledging to the students that you are aware of their distress, that you are sincerely concerned about their welfare, and that you are willing to help them explore their alternatives can have a profound effect. Whenever possible, we encourage you to speak directly to a student when you sense that they are in academic and / or personal distress.

  1. Request to see the student in private.
  2. Briefly acknowledge your observations and perceptions of their situation and express your concerns directly and honestly.
  3. Listen carefully to what the student is troubled about and try to see the issue from their point of view without necessarily agreeing or disagreeing.
  4. Strange and inappropriate behavior should not be ignored. The student can be informed that such behavior is distracting and inappropriate.
  5. Your receptivity to an alienated student will allow them to respond more effectively to your concerns.

Involve yourself only as far as you are willing to go. At times, in an attempt to reach or help a troubled student, you may become more involved than time or skill permits. Extending oneself to others always involves some risk but it can be a gratifying experience when kept within realistic limits.

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If you are unsure how to respond to a specific student, consult with one of the professional staff at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Suggestions will be made for approaches you can take with the student. The counseling staff can also assist with the referral process.

CAPS is committed to helping students increase their skills and resources in meeting their academic and interpersonal challenges and in becoming responsible and productive adults. The professional staff consists of psychologists and doctoral psychology interns with diverse backgrounds and training.

Our services include individual, group, and couples therapy, as well as numerous workshops on topics such as stress management, eating disorders, substance abuse, coping with grief and loss, and healthy relationships. Staff also offer training and consultation services to student organizations, academic departments, and other university departments that have a high degree of contact with students.

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Making a Referral

If you feel that professional therapy might be beneficial, refer the student to CAPS. Be direct in letting the student know that you believe a therapist would be of help in this situation. Inform the student that the service is both confidential and free of charge. A mutual decision is best. Don't force the issue if the student takes a defensive posture - simply restate your concerns and recommendations. If the student is receptive, you can suggest that they call for an appointment at 209.946.2315, extension 2. You may even offer to contact a therapist and provide background information. If the situation seems urgent, you can call the CAPS office coordinator and request to speak with the staff member on call. You may also consider walking the student over to CAPS. An Emergency hour is available as needed during the weekdays.

Please see the Making an Appointment and/or When You Need Emergency Assistance pages for more information.

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II. Specific Guidelines for Helping Distressed Students

The Verbally Aggressive Student

Students sometimes become verbally abusive when confronted with frustrating situations that they perceive as beyond their control; anger and frustration may become displaced from those situations to you. Typically, the anger is not a personal attack, although it may be directed at you.


  • Acknowledge their anger and frustration (e.g., "I hear how angry you are.")
  • Rephrase what they are saying and identify their emotion (e.g., "I can see how upset you are because you feel your rights are being violated and nobody will listen.")
  • Allow them to "vent," get the feelings out, and tell you what is upsetting them
  • Reduce stimulation; invite the person to your office or other quiet place if this is comfortable
  • Tell them that you are not willing to accept their verbally abusive behavior (e.g., "When you yell and scream at me that way, I find it hard / impossible to listen.")
  • Tell them they are violating your personal space and to please move back if they are physically getting too close (e.g., "Please stand back - you're too close.")
  • Help the person problem-solve and deal with the real issues when they become calmer


  • Get into an argument or shouting match
  • Become hostile or punitive yourself (e.g., "You can't talk to me that way!")
  • Press for explanation or reasons for their behavior (e.g., "Now I'd like you to tell me exactly why you are so obnoxious.")
  • Look away and not deal with the situation
  • Give away your own rights as a person
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The Violent or Physically Destructive Student

Violence related to emotional distress is very rare and typically occurs only when the student is completely frustrated, feels powerless, and is unable to exert sufficient self-control. The adage, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," best applies here.


  • Prevent total frustration and helplessness by quickly and calmly acknowledging the intensity of the situation (e.g., "I can see you're really upset and really mean business and have some critical concerns on your mind.")
  • Explain clearly and directly what behaviors are acceptable (e.g., "You certainly have the right to be angry but hitting and breaking things is not okay.")
  • Stay in open area
  • Divert attention when all else fails (e.g., "if you hit me, I can't be of help.")
  • Get necessary help (other staff, Public Safety, CAPS staff.)
  • Remember that student discipline is implemented by Student Conduct.


  • Ignore warning signs that the person is about to explode (e.g., yelling, screaming, clenched fists, statements like, "You're leaving me no choice.")
  • Threaten, dare, taunt, or push into a corner
  • Touch
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The Student in Poor Contact with Reality

These students have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality, the dream from the waking state. Their thinking is typically illogical, confused, disturbed; they may coin new words, see or hear things which no one else can, have irrational beliefs, and exhibit bizarre or inappropriate behavior. Generally, these students are not dangerous and are very scared, frightened, and overwhelmed.


  • Respond with warmth and kindness, but with firm reasoning.
  • Remove extra stimulation of the environment and see them in a quiet atmosphere (if you are comfortable in doing so)
  • Acknowledge your concerns and state that you can see they need help (e.g., "It seems very hard for you to integrate all these things that are happening and I am concerned about you; I'd like to help.")
  • Acknowledge the feelings or fears without supporting the misconceptions (e.g., "I understand you think they are trying to hurt you and I know how real it seems to you, but I don't hear the voices (see the devil, etc.)")
  • Reveal your difficulty in understanding them, when appropriate (e.g., "I'm sorry but I don't understand. Could you repeat that or say it in a different way?")
  • Focus on the "here and now." Switch topics and divert the focus from the irrational to the rational or the real
  • Speak to their healthy side, which they have. It's okay to joke, laugh, or smile when appropriate


  • Argue or try to convince them of the irrationality of their thinking, which may lead them to defend their position (false perceptions) more ardently
  • Play along (e.g., "Oh yeah, I hear the voices (or see the devil).")
  • Encourage further revelations of craziness
  • Demand, command, or order
  • Expect customary emotional responses
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The Suspicious Student

Typically, these students complain about something other than their psychological difficulties. They are tense, anxious, mistrustful, loners, and have few friends. They tend to interpret minor oversights as significant personal rejection and often overreact to insignificant occurrences. They see themselves as the focal point of everybody's behavior and everything that happens has special meaning to them. They are overly concerned with fairness and being treated equally. Feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy underline much of their behavior.


  • Express compassion without intimate friendship. Remember, suspicious students have trouble with closeness and warmth
  • Be firm, steady, punctual, and consistent
  • Be specific and clear regarding the standards of behavior you expect
  • Be aware that humor may be interpreted as rejection


  • Assure the student that you are their friend; agree you're a stranger, but even strangers can be concerned
  • Be overly warm and nurturing
  • Challenge or agree with any mistaken or illogical beliefs
  • Be ambiguous
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The Anxious Student

These students are highly anxious about the unknown and may perceive danger is everywhere. Uncertainty about expectations and interpersonal conflicts are primary causes of anxiety. High and unreasonable self-expectations increase anxiety also. These students often have trouble making decisions.


  • Let them discuss their feelings and thoughts. Often this alone relieves a great deal of pressure
  • Reassure when appropriate
  • Remain calm
  • Be clear and explicit


  • Make things more complicated
  • Take responsibility for their emotional state
  • Overwhelm with information or ideas
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The Demanding, Passive Student

Typically, the utmost time and energy given to these students is not enough; they often seek to control your time and unconsciously believe the amount of time received is a reflection of their worth.


  • Let them, as much as possible, make their own decisions
  • Set limits on the time and energy you are willing to spend with the student


  • Let them use you as their only source of support
  • Get trapped into giving advice (e.g., "Why don't you, etc.?")
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The Student who may have an Eating Disorder

People with an eating disorder think about food, weight, and body shape in distorted ways. This leads to ways of eating and managing weight that:

  1. are harmful to the mind and the body, and can be deadly
  2. make the person feel anxious and miserable most of the time
  3. are often upsetting to others

Eating disorders are very prevalent:

  1. More than 5 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder
  2. This includes 5% of young women; 1% of young men
  3. College women ages 18-22 have a higher incidence than those younger, older, or not in college
  4. 15% of young women have substantially disordered eating attitudes and behaviors
  5. An estimated 1000 women die each year of anorexia nervosa
  6. Eating disorders is a men's issue, too. A study of college men (Journal of American College Health, 2002) showed that 20% "had significant worries about their weight and shape and regularly employed restrictive eating behaviors, such as limiting food intake and following specific rules about eating."  Most men are affected in some way by the distorted body image or distorted eating behavior of a significant woman in their lives (e.g., sister, mother, and / or girlfriend.)

Eating disorders can last from months to years. If left untreated, they disrupt social relationships, school, and work. They cause psychological and medical problems that can be permanent and can even lead to death. All eating problems are damaging to a person's self-esteem. If the problem lasts long enough, the person feels trapped and hopeless and is afraid that they will never recover.

Some of the warning signs of an eating disorder include:

  1. Marked increase or decrease in weight that is not related to a medical condition
  2. Abnormal eating habits, such as secretive bingeing, absence in dining halls, and eating peculiar combinations of food
  3. Intense preoccupation with weight and body image; this may be evidenced by frequently weighing self and constant self-criticism of body
  4. Compulsive or excessive exercising, as evidenced by expressions of extreme guilt if the person doesn't exercise; rigid routine unrelated to athletic training; exercising when injured; or exercising when it is having negative effects in other areas of life (e.g. missing classes to exercise.)
  5. Restrictive eating or purging through vomiting, fasting, laxatives, diet pills or diuretics
  6. Emotional instability, such as moodiness, depression, loneliness, and/or irritability

When working with a student who may have an eating disorder:

  • Establish rapport with the student
  • Focus on specific behaviors that concern you. Behaviors are difficult to deny
  • Express concern for the student in a caring, supportive and non-judgmental manner
  • Understand that the student may deny the problem. At this point you may want to consult with either Pacific Health Services or with CAPS staff. If the student's behaviors appear to be life threatening, then definitely seek assistance
  • Reassure the student that help is available and change is possible
  • Try to get the student to make a commitment to contact a therapy and / or medical referral. If the student expresses reluctance, find out why and address the concerns
  • Follow-up; show continued support; ask about the referral


  • Confront the student when you do not have privacy
  • Get into a battle over whether or not the student should label the behavior an "eating disorder"
  • Argue with the student
  • Give advice about weight loss, exercise, or appearance
  • Attempt to force the student to eat
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The Student who has been Sexually Assaulted

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Research Report (December, 2000), 5% of college women nationwide experience a rape or attempted rape in a given academic year. Men can also be the victims of rape and sexual assault. It is important to respond sensitively to students who disclose having experienced a sexual assault or an attempted assault.

The Bureau of Justice report also tells us that 95% of the assaults of college women go unreported in any formal way. One-third of women do not tell anyone of their experience, and two-thirds tell a friend or other trusted individual. Complicating the issue of reporting is the fact that most assailants are persons known to the victim; they are not strangers.

If you are the person trusted with this information, what can you do?

  • Listen to the person's account
  • Let the person know you care about their well-being
  • Appreciate any feelings disclosed as normal under the circumstances
  • Assist the person in obtaining additional support and help (see resources below). In particular, the Student Victim Advocate can be of support to the student and explain all of the options available to the student
  • Ask about the person's physical condition (i.e., the possibility of physical injury or exposure to disease or, for women, pregnancy)
  • Ask about the person's current experience of safety; if they do not feel safe in their environment, offer assistance in increasing their sense of safety by contacting the Student Victim Advocate


  • Relate your own experience or story in any detail
  • Pursue specific details, except to clarify what you are hearing
  • Offer judgments about what might have been done differently
  • Make decisions for the person


The student may need and want to seek medical attention, even some time after the assault, to check for physical damage and to test for sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy. Medical assistance at San Joaquin General Hospital includes a comprehensive medical exam, and a forensic exam, if desired. Medical assistance at Pacific Health Services includes treatment for non-life-threatening injuries, non-evidentiary exams, offering the option of the morning after pill (when the student is seen within 72 hours of the sexual assault), and provision of follow-up medical tests for sexual assault victims.

Note that if the person who reports an offense requests a change in academic, living, or work arrangements as a result of the offense, the college will make reasonable efforts to accommodate such requests. The Student Victim Advocate can be of assistance with these requests.

The student should be advised of the right to make a formal complaint of the assault to the police department in the city where the assault occurred. If the assailant is a student member of the campus community, a complaint can be filed with the Department of Public Safety. If the assailant is a faculty or staff member of the University, a complaint can be filed with the Human Resources Department.

The Sexual Assault and Harassment Policy, which includes details of the adjudication process is available in the Tiger Lore Student Handbook.

As mandated by law, if a student discusses the sexual assault with a member of the staff or faculty, all campus personnel (with the exception of therapists in Counseling and Psychological Services) are required to file an anonymous sexual assault report form with the Student Victim Advocate.

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The Substance Abusing Student

Given the stresses of university life, students are especially susceptible to drug abuse. A variety of substances are available that provide escape from pressing demands. These drugs soon create their own set of problems in the form of addiction, accident proneness, and poor health. The most abused substance, one that is so commonplace that we often forget that it is a drug, is alcohol. Alcohol and other drug-related accidents remain the greatest single cause of preventable death among college students.


  • be on the alert for signs of drug abuse: preoccupation with drugs, inability to participate in class activities, deteriorating performance in class, periods of memory loss (blackouts)
  • share your honest concern for the person
  • encourage to seek help
  • get necessary help in instances of intoxication


  • ignore the problem
  • chastise/lecture
  • encourage the behavior
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The Depressed Student

Typically, these students get the most sympathy. They show a multitude of symptoms such as guilt, low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, and inadequacy, as well as physical symptoms such as decreased or increased appetite, difficulty staying asleep, early awakening, and / or low interest in daily activities. Depressed students are frequently lethargic, but sometimes depression is accompanied by agitation.


  • Let student know you're aware they may be feeling down and you would like to help
  • Reach out more than halfway and encourage the student to express how they are feeling, for they are often initially reluctant to talk, yet others' attention helps the student feel more worthwhile
  • Tell the student of your concern


  • Say, "Don't worry," "Crying won't help," or "Everything will be better tomorrow"
  • Be afraid to ask whether the student is suicidal if you think they may be
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The Suicidal Student

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. The suicidal person is intensely ambivalent about killing themselves, and typically responds to help; suicidal states are definitely time limited and most who die by suicide are neither crazy nor psychotic. High risk indicators include: feelings of hopelessness and futility; a severe loss or threat of loss; a detailed suicide plan; history of a previous attempt; history of alcohol or drug abuse; and feelings of alienation and isolation. Suicidal students usually want to communicate their feelings, therefore any opportunity to do so should be encouraged.


  • Take the student seriously; 80 percent of suicides give warning of their intent
  • Acknowledge that a threat of or attempt at suicide is a plea for help
  • Be available to listen, to talk, and to be concerned, but refer the student to CAPS or other appropriate agencies when you yourself are getting overwhelmed
  • Administer to yourself. Helping someone who is suicidal is hard, demanding, and draining work


  • Minimize the situation or depth of feeling (e.g., "Oh it will be much better tomorrow.")
  • Be afraid to ask the person if they are so depressed or sad that they want to hurt themselves (e.g., "You seem so upset and discouraged that I'm wondering if you are considering suicide.")
  • Over commit yourself and, therefore, not be able to deliver on what you promise
  • Ignore your limitations
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III. Warning Signs of Potentially Suicidal Behavior

If you observe any of the following warning signs that might indicate suicidal risk, communicate them to a mental health professional as soon as possible:

  1. Expression of desire to kill themself or wishing to be dead.
  2. Presence of a plan to harm self.
  3. Means are available to carry out a plan to harm themself.
  4. Suicide plan is specific as to time, place, and notes already written.
  5. High stress due to grief, illness, loss of new job, academic difficulty, etc.
  6. Symptoms of depression are present, such as loss of appetite, sleep, severe hopelessness or agitation, feeling of exhaustion, guilt/shame, loss of interest in school, work or sexual activities, change or deterioration of hygiene.
  7. Intoxication or drug abuse (including alcohol).
  8. Previous suicide attempt by the individual, a friend, or a family member.
  9. Isolation, loneliness or lack of support.
  10. Withdrawal or agitation.
  11. Preparation to leave, giving away possessions, packing belongings.
  12. Secretive behavior.
  13. Major mood changes (e.g. elation of person who has been depressed, extroversion of previously quiet person).
  14. Indirect comments implying death is an option (e.g., person implies they may not be around in the future).
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