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Life offers many large and small opportunities for crisis: bereavement, relationships falling apart, Architectural detail, stained glassillness in oneself and others, death of a parent, job loss, are recognisably major events. But during the developmental stages which occur between 18 and 25, students may also be affected by what seem to be relatively minor events or a 'final straw', an otherwise innocuous event which just happens to be one too many in a long unresolved buildup, triggering a total loss of confidence or psychological crisis.

A crisis tends to be due to one of three things:

  • Someone to whom one has an emotional attachment confounds expectations
  • Physical illness or death
  • A disaster, such as a car crash.

All crises have elements of the sudden and unexpected: danger; loss of control; acute uncertainty about what to do, how to be and what to feel. In addition tutees suffer not only their own difficulties but those of their families as well.  Sudden unemployment or serious illness for a parent may mean practical disruption for a whole family.

How can a Tutor support a student in crisis?

In the initial shock phase there is not a lot anyone, including a Tutor, can do except be with the tutee. That this calm figure is not also in crisis seems to suggest that somehow a solution is knowable. The emotional support that comes from simply caring and empathising with the tutee is invaluable at this point. The Tutor should resist the temptation to teach the tutee anything. When in shock, we mainly need sympathy and comforting noises. It also helps to make sure that there is sufficient support in place once the student has left your office, which may be provided by sympathetic friends or family members.

The next phase of help is to 'be with' again but this time very actively listening. The fact that a Tutor is doing so tells the tutee they are worth listening to. When in crisis, the fact that someone thinks we are important, valuable, and seems quite sure we have the resources to cope, is extraordinarily affirming. The opportunity to learn from experience is much reduced by runaway emotions, so if a Tutor can encourage a tutee to express their feelings and through this gradually to calm down, the tutee is then in a position to begin to make sense of what has happened. Tutors and counsellors are quite rightly seen as unblocking barriers and facilitating movement along a personal journey which would take place in time anyway. The trick is to facilitate rapid movement, so avoiding drop out, suspension, disrupted concentration and motivation, and of course excessive distress.


Referring students in crisis to Counselling and Wellbeing is quite appropriate although it can be difficult to know if the student intends to act upon the referral. It is a good idea to make another appointment with the student so that they come back to see you with general feedback about how they got on with Counselling and Wellbeing. Other services such as the Chaplaincy or the RUSU Student Advice Team also offer support to help them engage with other support services such as Student Finance if the crisis is triggered by financial worries, for example. Often, students in crisis got to this point because they find it difficult to seek support. It is helpful to identify what are their concerns about seeking support from professionals, and encourage them to view this as a positive step in making progress.

If the tutee is living in hall, it is important that the Tutor (with the tutee's permission) informs the Warden or Resident Tutor so that the hall can offer appropriate support and monitor the well-being of the tutee, especially if no close friends are available to help.

Things to do now

The Directory contains useful information on services and resources that are available to support you and your tutees.

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