General considerations for talking to students
- Encourage the student to speak uninterrupted while you listen attentively
- Listen without offering judgment or advice
- Avoid problem solving or making promises
- Allow for silences in the conversation
- Ask for clarification rather than make assumptions
- Meet privately with the student (choose a time and place when you will not be interrupted)
It is important to maintain confidentiality with respect to your interaction with the student. At the same time, avoid making sweeping promises of confidentiality, particularly if the student presents as a risk to themselves or to others. In circumstances where students are at risk of harming themselves or others, it is necessary to breach confidentiality to ensure the safety of those at risk.
“SAFETY TRUMPS PRIVACY”
Trust your instincts. Say something if you’re worried about a student or if they leave you feeling concerned. It’s OK to share your concerns about a student with someone at the University in order to provide the student with the support they need. Not only is this OK but it is expected that you provide full disclosure. You will not know what information and details from your conversation with a student may be valuable or helpful to a health and wellness professional so make sure to disclose all the facts. Outside of the people involved in the response to the student in distress, do not discuss the case with colleagues or friends.
Maintaining Professional Boundaries
Students do not always know how much information they should/need to disclose. To maintain proper professional boundaries, you should ask only for required information (i.e., information needed for the safety of the student). The level of information needed may be different for students who are registered with accessibility services and those who are not.
You only need enough information to secure accommodations for students who need them, or to refer them to appropriate services. This process is easier when the student is registered with Accessibility Services. For example, a student with depression might need extra time for assignments and a student with anxiety may need a distraction-‐free room for exams. Students are under no obligation to disclose their diagnosis to you and you have no right to ask about the diagnosis.
Conversely, sometimes, students share more information than is necessary. They may, for example, provide details about their diagnoses or symptoms. Educators do not need this information, so they should not follow up with further questions. If a student “over-‐shares,” gently inform her/him that you only need enough information to facilitate an accommodation.
Lastly, don’t take on too much responsibility and don’t deal with a crisis alone. Remember that you are not a counseling professional and it is not your responsibility to diagnose the student or identify the source and impact of the student’s distress. Your primary objective is to refer students to the most appropriate resources at the University of Toronto or in the community.
Avoid becoming a SPOC (special person of contact); there are more appropriate people to play this role for students who are in need of a relationship or ongoing support.