Academic journal article College Student Journal

Exploring Primary Referral Source Impact on Student Initial Perceptions of Counseling

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Exploring Primary Referral Source Impact on Student Initial Perceptions of Counseling

Article excerpt

There has been no published research to date comparing the impact of different primary referral sources for a student seeking counseling services on student initial counseling perceptions. Using 82 undergraduates in counseling, this study partitioned these students into two referral groups, where 1 = self-referred (myself), N = 45 versus 2 = other-source referred (including family, friends, significant other, or university staff), N =37. New and reliable scales were used to measure two initial perceptions, counselor meeting anxiety and belief in counseling help. Results showed that the "other source" group had significantly higher counselor meeting anxiety than the self-source group. However, there was no significant difference between groups in their belief in counseling help. (114 words)

Key words: referral source; initial counseling perceptions


The issue of "referral" in the college counseling literature generally refers to issues around a counseling center referring students to resources outside of the center (Lacour & Carter, 2002; Owen, Devdas & Rodolfa, 2007). However, referral can also indicate how students get to the university counseling center. The trend toward an increased demand for mental health services on college campuses has been well-documented (Gallagher, 2010). As counseling centers increase their outreach efforts (Asidao & Sevig, 2014), this leads to an increase in referrals to the counseling center by outside parties (e.g., other students, faculty, university staff). A recent article (Badura Brack, Runco, Cadwallader & Kelley, 2012) found that, using a 1 (very unlikely) to 5 = (very likely) scale, 73 undergraduate college students were most likely to refer a depressed friend to the university counseling center (3.99), followed by other social support options, i.e., student's parents (3.53), resident advisor (3.49) and another friend (3.48). As parents have become more involved their children's college education, this has also led to parents increasingly looking to university counseling centers to provide mental health services for their children (Watkins, Hunt & Eisenberg, 2011). Further exemplifying the trend towards outside-referral is the work of Nolan, Pace, Iannelli Palm & Pakaln (2006). Nolan et al (2006) proposed an empirically supported program to increase faculty referrals of students to the counseling center. They argued that increasing faculty's awareness of the university's counseling center, and helping them to make appropriate referrals, has benefits both for the student and the university.

As students who are "other-referred" present with greater frequency, it behooves counseling centers to increase their awareness of how these students approach the counseling experience. Although a positive impact has been shown on educational outcomes (e.g., significant increase in grade point average and graduation rate) for students who were self-referred versus other-referred (Redding 1971), the impact of self-referred versus other-referred has not been examined for counseling outcomes. The goal of this study was to compare the impact of two primary referral sources, i.e., self- versus-other, on university student initial perceptions of counseling. Cooper and Archer (2002) have argued that college counseling centers need to increase their levels of research activities.

Lack of Prior Research Measuring Initial Student Perceptions of Counseling

A review of the college counseling literature found prior research that investigated dimensions related to perceptions of counselors. For example, Barak and LaCrosse (1975) found three dimensions of perceived effective counselor behavior, expertness, attractiveness, and trustworthiness, by undergraduate psychology students watching films of counselors' interviewing behaviors. In a retrospective qualitative study of perceived counselor helpfulness for 36 clients who averaged 11 counseling sessions, Paulson, Truscott and Stuart (1999) found five thematic clusters consistent with prior research, and four new thematic clusters. …

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