Ed193a: Peer Counseling

Speaking of applied classes in the school of education…

Ed193a is a class that trains students to be peer counselors at The Bridge, Stanford’s 24-hour, free, anonymous peer counseling service.  I didn’t come in to it thinking that I would want to be a peer counselor.  I actually just got an email, before picking my classes, entitled: “Ed193a – Be a Better RA, Friend, and Leader!”  I thought that the class would teach me some good listening skills, and I knew a friend who had a positive experience in the class last term, so I decided to take it.

I got a lot out of it.  Each week there was a lecture on some skills / best practices, there was a section where we would go more in depth on those skills and apply them, and there was a cocounsel where each person would have a practice-counsel with someone else taking the class. 

Some parts in the class were a little bit intense (ie, our two weeks on suicide), but it was all useful.

The Skills (1)

The overall message is that the peer counselor is there to help the counselee figure out their own problems.  To that effect, there are 8 commandments:

  • Be Here and Now – that way, the counselee can deal with the emotions that they have and move on rather than dwelling on the past.
  • Have Empathy
  • Put Feelings First – feelings are often at the core of an issue.  Even if a person wants to just deal with a problem, dealing with the feelings will probably help them deal with that problem by getting them into a place where they can think clearly.
  • Don’t Interpret – if the counselee says something and you interpret that to mean something that it isn’t, then it can make the counselee feel very awkward, offended, or otherwise uncomfortable.  And even if the counselee buys in to the interpretation, since peer counselors aren’t trained to interpret, they might be buying into something wrong, which could be harmful.
  • Don’t Take Personal Responsibility for Their Problems – the counselor’s health is important too.
  • Don’t Judge
  • Don’t Give Personal Advice – as a peer counselor, you’re trying to help the counselee get to their own conclusions.  You aren’t trained to give good personal advice, and they’re more likely to actually listen if they come up with an idea on their own.
  • Don’t Ask “Why” – the word “why” can seem accusatory.  Asking the same question using “what” or “how” will be more effective.

There’s also the guideline to ask open ended questions rather than closed ended questions.  With an open ended question, the counselee can come up with their own feelings.  With a closed ended questions, they might just answer “yes” or “no,” which wouldn’t help very much. 

In a counsel, the counselor will also intersperse paraphrases throughout.  These can help to make sure that the counselor isn’t getting the wrong impression and also because, if a counselee is overly emotional, they might not fully realize some of the things that they’re saying, and a paraphrase will let them hear it from someone else and process their own information.

The overall flow is to figure out the situation, identify, classify, and figure out ways to deal with each big feeling that the counselee is having, and then try to deal with the underlying problem. 

Figuring out the situation and dealing with the underlying problem were fairly common sense (with the caveat of asking open ended questions and having them figure it out themselves rather than giving personal advice), though getting practice with it definitely made me improve.  The main thing that I learned was dealing with feelings.  Trying to grasp how a feeling is affecting a counselee, what other feelings are tied up in it, ways that they’ve dealt with the feeling in the past, etc.

The Final (3)

The final was on May 29, a week before finals week.  It was a counsel with a current peer counselor.  They assumed a particular role, I counseled, and he told me how I did afterwards. 

There were a few kinks – I asked some closed questions – but it went well overall.  He said that I had an amazing ability to direct the conversation so that it’s productive at the same time as opening up space so that he always felt like he was moving somewhere on his own.  When my section leader looked at the comments on the evaluation form from the counsel, he said that he had never seen the evaluator write that.

It felt good.

I’m still not sure whether or not I’ll do any peer counseling at the Bridge, but I might.



Experience Type:

Experience Date: 
Saturday, June 20, 2009