Counselling skills in peer education: What does that mean and why is it important?

You don’t have to be a qualified professional counsellor to use basic counselling skills in peer education (or in your everyday life, really). However, you have to know whether what you are doing as peer educators can or cannot be termed as counselling. Given that counselling can be a confusing concept, it is firstly important to highlight that counselling does not involve giving advice, guidance or sympathy to people. Moreover, counselling is not about being liable to resolve people’s issues with “magical” solutions.

|Eta, mo sagrin twa, pa fasil sa | To bizin fer sa | Ecout mwa, to pou corec si to fer ce ki mo p dire twa |

"You don’t have to be a qualified professional counsellor to use basic counselling skills in peer education (or in your everyday life, really)"

In fact, to counsel is to provide a supportive relationship, based on mutual trust and respect, which enables people to freely explore, understand, and eventually come to terms with their issues. For example, if someone comes to you saying that he is worried because he has had unprotected sex, telling him that he should always use condoms is not counselling. Instead, this demonstrates an attempt to persuade with a condemning attitude. On the contrary, paying attention to his concerns and truly trying to understand his perspective (so as to work together towards behavioural changes) would reflect the practice of counselling. In essence, what you would want to do in counselling when dealing with peers is to facilitate their self-knowledge and positive change.

|Mo la pou ecout twa |Pren letan ki to bizin pou koze, rakont mwa ki p arrive| Ensam, nou pou guetter ki kav fer |

In particular, some of the most fundamental elements in counselling happen to be some of the key qualities of a good peer educator.

As peer educators, it is not only important to share the accurate information to your peers but also to:

- Maintain confidentiality

“Whatever you say to me stays between us”: Maintaining confidentiality helps in creating a safe space for your peers to feel comfortable talking about private information. Nevertheless, confidentiality may not be guaranteed in some cases, such as serious harm to self and/or others.

- Promote empowerment

 “Believe in your infinite potential. Your only limitations are those you set upon yourself.” ― Roy T. Bennett

As a peer educator, you would seek to help your peers identify their own resources to clarify and resolve their issues. Promoting empowerment reflects that you are confident that your peers have the innate potential to make intentional life choices and achieve their goals.

- Have empathy

“Walk a mile in someone’s shoes”: Good practice of counselling and peer education require a commitment to understand, or at least try to understand, people’s experiences AS IF they were your own. We’ve already mentioned that counselling is not about being sympathetic to others and while both sympathy and empathy are forms of care and concern for others, there is a considerable difference between these two terms. Sympathy is feeling sorry/pity/compassion for others whereas empathy is genuinely understanding how others may feel (by imagining yourself in their situation) and sharing this understanding with them.

- Be genuine

Peer education is about not hiding behind a role or putting on an act. Being genuine means that you are able: to self-analyse, to distinguish your personal cultural assumptions from those of your peers, and eventually to overcome your potential prejudices/stereotypes/biases that may affect your education sessions.

- Have a non-judgmental attitude

 “When you criticise me, I intuitively dig in to defend myself. However, when you accept me like I am, I suddenly am willing to change” – Carl Rogers

Last of all, it is undeniably crucial to adopt a non-judgmental attitude in peer education, regardless of differences in personal values or worldviews. As pointed out by Rogers, your involvement in peer education would be more likely to be effective if you can accept and respect that your peers might have thoughts, beliefs or experiences that are different from yours.

For more in-depth information on the basics of counselling, you can check out the following materials:

Counselling skills in everyday life

An introduction to counselling(Chapter1)

 

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