There are many reasons that people enter counseling. Often people come in saying that they are overwhelmed and stressed due to various life circumstances. Sometimes they have had recent or past life traumas, such as abuse, loss, or illness. Many times they begin therapy following a crisis, something that has turned their world upside down, like the addiction of a loved one, adultery, or witnessing a violent incident. It could be a feeling of aloneness and just wanting someone to listen and care.

In addition, people may begin therapy because of symptoms that they are experiencing, which they want to understand or get relief from. Here are some of the symptoms that could indicate a need to seek help:

  • depression or intense sadness
  • frequent irritability
  • persistent feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or helplessness
  • low self esteem
  • poor concentration
  • changes in sleeping or appetite
  • decreased motivation or interest in life
  • thoughts of suicide or occurrence of self injury
  • angry outbursts
  • hallucinations
  • behavior changes noticed by yourself or others
  • panic attacks
  • significant difficulty leaving the house or completing everyday tasks
  • intense fears or phobias
  • excessive worrying
  • nightmares or flashbacks of traumatic events

There may be many other issues, unique to the individual, for which a person might seek counseling. If you are troubled by something and want to talk about it, no problem is "too small" to deserve care and attention.

In general, it's a good idea to consider seeing a counselor if your difficulties persist for an extended period of time, and/or if you experience symptoms that interfere with your daily activities.



Our lives involve opportunity, excitement, and stress. While experiencing everyday ups and downs is a part of life, some people encounter difficulties that interfere with their functioning. You may have noticed a friend or family member dealing with problems and wondered "What can I do to help?"

One of the best ways you can provide support for your friend or family member is simply by being willing to listen in an open and non-judgmental way. You can also help by spending time with your friend. Seeing a movie together, meeting for lunch - whatever activities you and your friend typically enjoy can provide an emotional boost during times of difficulty.

It is also important to recognize the limits of what help you can provide. In some cases, a friend may be experiencing distress that calls for professional help. Some of these signs of distress include:

  • Persistently depressed, irritable, or anxious mood
  • Changes in behavior - e.g. becoming more quiet or withdrawn
  • Changes in appetite, and/or weight changes
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Changes in work or school - e.g. low motivation, performance, interest
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Mention of suicidal ideation


  • Don't assume the situation will take care of itself.
  • Don't leave the person alone.
  • Don't be sworn to secrecy.
  • Don't challenge or dare.
  • Don't argue or debate moral issues.

Be willing to listen. One of the most important things for people when they are in crisis is having someone listen and really hear what they are saying. Even if professional help is needed, your friend will be more willing to seek help if you have listened to him or her.

Voice your concern. Take the initiative to ask what is troubling your friend and attempt to overcome reluctance to talk about it.

Take it seriously. Do not dismiss or undervalue what someone shares. Do not assume the situation will take care of itself. 75% of all people who commit suicide give some warning of their intentions to a friend or family member. All suicidal talk should be taken seriously.

Ask if the person has a specific plan for committing suicide and how far he or she has gone towards carrying it out. It is a myth that asking about suicide will cause a person to think about or commit suicide.

Let them know you care. Reassure your friend that he or she is not alone. Explain that although powerful, suicidal feelings are temporary. Problems can be solved. Depression can get better, but suicide is permanent.

Ask about alternatives to suicide. Let your friend know that depressed feelings can change. Explore solutions to their problems. Help the client to generate specific, definite plans (e.g., staying overnight with a friend, calling parent, tomorrow we will go to the counseling center together).

Get professional help. Your friend opened up to you because they trust you and have confidence in you. Encourage them to trust your decision to involve a professional. They may be more likely to seek help if you provide support and accompany him or her to the Counseling Center.

The USAO Counseling Center is located on the 3rd floor of the Student Center. If it is after business hours, contact the campus security. You do not need to handle this alone. There are professionals available to you who are trained to handle situations like this.

You may also take your friend to a local hospital emergency room. You may contact police for assistance.

If for any reason you are unsure, uncomfortable or unable to take action, contact a responsible person with whom to share your concerns (e.g., counselor, parent, coach, faculty member, police, staff person). If all else fails, call 911. It is better to have an angry friend than a dead one.

Address your own needs. Being in a helping role can be stressful, draining, and sometimes frustrating. Be sure that your own needs are being met. It may be useful to talk to someone or receive individual counseling to address your experience and reactions.