Models: "Support" versus "Counselling"

Models of how young people can help others with their problems, from support to more formal counselling. This section is about models for the involvement of students in the helping process. Once we are clear about what we're setting out to do, expectations become more defined and realistic, while anxieties can be managed. I prefer to use the umbrella term "Peer Support" as it carries less connotations of expertise than "Peer Counselling", although a "Supporter" will use counselling skills and values in many or all of the things he or she will do.

The vast potential of Peer Support Projects is only recently being recognised. Even then developments in the U.K. are patchy, with little co-ordination or exchange of ideas and information amongst schools and projects.

In broad terms Peer Support Projects can be seen as ways of empowering a whole school community in its attempts to create order, achievement, individual recognition and fairness, qualities which you hope will follow students into their adult lives.

More specifically, Projects can be broken down into some broad categories, although there will often be considerable overlap.

  • Peer Education aims to involve credible and articulate young people in delivering suitable aspects of the curriculum, adding to what teachers and other adults can offer. Examples would include issues to do with managing relationships, drugs and alcohol and teenage pregnancy. An example is the Teen Talk Project in Maine.

  • Peer Mentoring is intended to support other students in coping with the tasks of school, and will involve practical involvement e.g. in helping a new student to "settle in", or to help them get organised with their homework!

  • Peer Mediation schemes offer early intervention to assist in conflict resolution.This involves intensive training in achieving rapport and neutrality; enabling communication and acknowledgment; mapping the issues, and; negotiating a realistic and ethically sound agreement.

  • Peer Counselling involves a deeper and more personal form of helping, based on active listening and accurate empathy, creating a context in which values and priorities can be explored and possible solutions generated. It can take some time before eager young helpers appreciate the concept of self-determination, and that compulsory advice-giving is not central to counselling skills! Training tends to be a mix of experiential work (aimed at enhanced self- and other-awareness) and key "topics" such as: "Life Cycle Transitions"; "Current Social Issues Affecting Young People"; "Family Life"; "Attachment and Loss"; Child Protection/Children's Rights"; "Stress", and other sessions suggested - and sometimes led - by students themselves.

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