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Peer Counseling Groups Wrap Up Training For New Counselors

By Menaka V. Narayanan, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: February 10, 2016, at 7:58 p.m.

After kicking off the semester with a week of educational workshops, a new batch of student counselors are now ready to advise their peers in approaching health, social, and personal concerns.

Following weeks of pubbing emails, postering flyers, and conducting interviews, recruitment for campus peer-counseling organizations, including groups like Contact Peer Counseling and Eating Concerns Hotline and Outreach, culminates in thirty to forty hours of training.

With the recently opened QuadTalk counseling service, which offers nightly peer counseling for upperclassmen in the Quad from various counseling organizations on a rotating schedule, demand for Contact counselors has expanded, according to Marisa E. Houlahan ’17, co-director Contact.

“Our staff has grown bigger than it has been in the past just to accommodate extra hours,” Houlahan said.

ECHO co-director Karen M. Maldonado ’18 said that although the number of recruits for ECHO fluctuates from year to year, recent years have seen an increase in staff, growing from 13 members last fall to 18 members this spring.

“We increased numbers recently just to better serve the community,” Maldonado said. “Having a big staff makes it nice to sort of allocate evenly the burden on each of our staffers.”

Although each organization conducts its own specifically tailored workshops, some groups share similar programming. For example, ECHO’s workshops hone in on issues of body image, body concerns, exercise and eating concerns, while also covering counseling techniques used for general issues, according to Maldonado.

“We have a lot of training on [the] basics of peer counseling. We are trained to handle any issue,” Maldonado said. “Anyone can call ECHO with any sort of concern, nothing is too small.”

Held for new and returning counselors alike, ECHO’s workshops include meetings with Cambridge-area doctors and experts who provide information about the psychology of concerns counselors might confront and available resources near Harvard.

Workshops for Contact Peer Counseling include role playing and practice drop-ins, among other activities, according to Houlahan.

Last spring, Room 13, a peer counseling group based out of Thayer basement, received around 70 applications, with no upper limits on the number accepted, according to Room 13 co-director Andrew D. Kim ’16. When publicizing the organization, members of Room 13 pay special attention to attract a diverse array of applicants, according to Kim.

“We think really hard about trying to make sure our pub is reaching different communities on campus so that our staff can be as representative as possible,” Kim said.

Houlahan also said she values diversity, a characteristic she associates with higher quality counseling.

“We get all different types of people, and we make a conscious effort as we put together our staff to have a sort of a diverse range of perspectives,” Houlahan said. “One of the things we really value about our staff is we have a lot of different experiences, which I think helps us be better counselors.”

Kim described his experience as a peer counselor as rewarding and encouraged other students to join peer counseling groups.

“It’s the only extracurricular I do now because it feels real to me in a way that often times a lot of other work at Harvard doesn’t,” Kim said, “It’s a way of getting engaged with mental health that’s very personal and direct.”

—Staff writer Menaka V. Narayanan can be reached at menaka.narayanan@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @mnarayanan97.

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