By a Peer Supporter
May 16th, 2017
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You might have heard me getting called Mum or even better Grandma by people I am close to. I’ve actually come to realize that I don’t mind either of the two epithets, as I think that they reflect one of my main life goals. Especially along last year I in fact decided to opt for attitudes and actions that can help people around me feel better if they are having a dark 5 minutes, day, or time of their life.
A few times it happened to me to be spending hours talking to a dear friend who was having a very hard time coping with the hectic and sometimes frustrating life on Campus. Looking back, I still think that spending my time with that person rather than with my Chemistry notes was absolutely worth it. I could immediately see in fact that just having someone to talk to could give them a space to vent negativity and at the same time reflect and gain a more lucid view on the state of things. I remember thinking that it would have been awesome if every person having a hard time in school could have someone to feel safe to open themselves to, while so many people’s struggles pass unnoticed.
Right on time, I received an email introducing the Peer Support Programme, aimed to equip a group of students with skills to provide this kind of support to their peers. I applied and joined a project that did way more than teaching me Peer Listening skills, but that I feel transformed to some extent the way I relate to people today, almost a year from then. These skills consist in some quite straight-forward concepts that can shape the listener’s attitude in a way to create a safe space for the “client” to vent negative emotions and reflect on his experiences. Empathy, active listening, unconditional positive regard, genuineness. For how simple these concepts may sound, putting them into practice is not as simple. Very common habits such as in the first place referring and comparing to own past experiences can in fact contrast the formation of this safe space. The Peer Support training helped me identify some of these skills and obstacles and becoming more aware of their presence in all my relationships with friends, family or even faculty. Empathy is of course to be put in the first place when it comes to create a space where a person can feel comfortable to share their experience. Active listening (ask a Peer Supporter for a more accurate explanation of how this works) helps maintaining a conversation going without the listener interfere with the client’s flow of thoughts. But what I really started valuing after this experience is keeping an open mind and a non-judgemental attitude to anything the other person might have to say, which I think it’s about the meaning of the words “unconditional positive regard”. I realised that in so many circumstances simply listening and trying to understand the other person’s motives makes an interaction way more effective. Becoming a Peer Supporter in UWCM enriched me with these skills to help the people around me, but also taught me that such knowledge can not only be helpful for counselling people who are struggling, but can also enrich and facilitate any every-day interaction within a community. I believe that the importance of such attitudes and skills should be emphasised within the community, for instance through workshops or within the Life Skills programme. Once everyone has turned into a Peer Supporter, maybe this role will no longer be needed.
If you would like to continue this debate, please do not hesitate to contact the author directly or The Flying Dutchman at TheFlyingDutchman@uwcmaastricht.nl
The Flying Dutchman team consists of UWC students aiming to reflect the news relevant to the people engaged with the UWC movement.