The Peer Counseling program at Deerfield started in the spring of 1988, when a large group of boys gathered to hear about a new opportunity for leadership. Working through the Health Center, the members of this new group trained to reach out and support their fellow students as part of the overall counseling program. The boys chosen from that group were the pioneers who originated the seamless program that is now over 20 years old. The makings of a good peer counselor have not changed over the last 20 years: A good sense of self, respect in the community, a genuine interest in helping other people, and an understanding of one’s boundaries and limitations are all valuable assets for young counselors.
In order to become peer counselors, students must go through a six-week training program that focuses on three core areas:
- Their own attitudes. Through discussions and role-playing, students examine their own opinions and issues, learning how to talk to others in an objective and unbiased way.
- Information and referrals. Students are given information, including a comprehensive manual, on the issues they may encounter. They also learn where to refer peers who are in need of further help.
- Counseling strategies. Through role-playing and discussions, students address the basic questions: what is counseling? and how is it done?
It is not unusual that many former peer counselors gravitate toward teaching and counseling, but the skills learned have been applied in other professions as well. One graduate said, “I incorporate what I learned from DA’s program just about every time I speak with friends, family members, and now, clients when they have difficult situations to discuss.” Another remarked, “While at DA, I did a lot of great things that served me well later in life, but peer counseling gave me a much more accelerated capacity to empathize with the situations other people are dealing with. I also think it made me a lot less eager to judge people. I keep using these skills every day.”
For all that peer counselors give to others, many of them agree that perhaps the greatest benefit of the program is what they gain in self knowledge and awareness.
–Excerpted from “Person to Person” by Sue Carlson, Deerfield (Fall 2006)