Counselling your classmates

Last spring AMS candidate team CMM campaigned across campus touting the possibility of initiating a peer counselling service. The proposal is panning out: the Peer Support Centre will open its doors in the JDUC in November, with eight to 10 volunteers providing non-academic counselling to students.

The motivation behind the centre is to give students an alternative to Health, Counselling and Disability Services (HCDS), which has waiting times of up to three weeks. The volunteers will act as a sounding board for students and can give advice on issues that aren’t considered overly serious. In cases where the issue may require professional help, the counsellor is there to redirect students to where they can find what they need.

The very fact this project is getting off the ground is impressive, and its proponent, AMS Vice-President (University Affairs) Julia Mitchell should be commended. It’s not without pitfalls, however.

Mitchell said volunteers will receive appropriate training suited to the problems they may be asked to address. But one day of instruction—the amount of time the AMS has dedicated to the training—doesn’t seem enough time to ensure the volunteers are knowledgeable on some of the difficult issues that may confront them.

There’s an appeal to having a peer—someone your own age, who may have comparable experiences—offer guidance. For those who can’t talk to friends about their problems, or who seek an active listener, the centre will undoubtedly provide a useful service.

However, there are downfalls to potentially having one of your classmates giving you advice on your personal matters, notably the issue of confidentiality. Although the AMS is asking all volunteers to sign a confidentiality agreement, it’s debatable how anonymous a student can be when he or she may bump into their counsellor in line at Alfie’s the night after a session.

This isn’t to say the counsellors won’t take their jobs seriously, but it might be unreasonable to expect complete confidence when this type of service is operating in such a small community.

As a service aiming to provide an understanding ear for students, the Peer Support Centre will probably be successful. Its blueprint, however, remains rough around the edges and may require another draft to ensure students have access to safe and confidential counselling—not just a sympathetic ear.

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