Reese Chatman, Campus Carrier features editor
As the school year finally comes into full swing, so do the homework pile-up, exams and range of negative emotions as a result of those things. However, one does not have to tackle their feelings of anxiety and loneliness alone. The counseling center, located inside of the Ladd center offers a variety of free services for any student in need, one of which is “peer wellness coaching” led by three senior psychology students. Although not an alternative to therapy or counseling, peer wellness coaching still has still greatly assisted a number of struggling students this semester in a variety of ways, including anxiety, conflict resolution, time management, etc.
“In counseling, it is very rare to have students who are undergraduates working in the counseling center, mainly because of all the confidentiality,” Becca Smith, director of the counseling center says, “But because counseling centers have become so overwhelmed over the past few years, we had to get creative.” Smith says much thought went into this program, including the name of the position these students hold, saying, “We had talked about doing a peer mentoring program of sorts, but I didn’t want to use the word “mentor” because I didn’t want students coming in here for mental health issues or therapy.”
The coaches must undergo a series of in depth training before being allowed work with clients. Additionally, even following their training, the coaches are heavily assisted and supervised. “We had a week-long, pretty intensive training for them,” says Carley Price, who serves as both a counselor and Lifeworks supervisor for the coaches, “and when we did that, we covered topics such as active listening, how to sit down with someone, and really the more practical parts of the job. We also spent a lot of time on risk assessment, relating to whether or not their students might need a higher level of care. We take that very seriously.” This training covers a variety of topics, including diversity and inclusion, safe spaces for LGBTQ+ peoples, etc., all of which are meant to assist these coaches in lending a helping hand to any type of student. Their training also entailed practice. “First, they watched the two of us, and then we played the role of students and they practiced on us,” Smith said, “We were not easy on them.” “Their training is also ongoing”, Price said, “They meet with us for one hour a week, as well as group supervision with either one of us or both of us, which totals as two complete hours of supervision a week.”
The counseling center holds confidentiality in a very high regard, ensuring that what a student tells their coach is heard by no one else. “Our training covered a lot about what to do if they see a student they’ve coached outside of a session or even if they already know a student that they are about to coach. They are very trained to explain their role, including what things they can and can’t cover and how they will interact with them if they run into each other outside of a session.” These coaches are under the counseling center’s professional license, and as a result, must also adhere to their code of ethics. Otherwise, that reflects poorly on Smith as well as everyone that works under her. Additionally, each counselor is completely unaware of what clients the other counselors meet with.
“Counseling has always been something I’ve wanted to look into and do,” says Abi Baluta, one of the peer wellness coaches, “Here at the counseling center, we can offer a space that students can come and we can work through whatever they need to work through. This is the inaugural year of the peer wellness coaching program, meaning Baluta, as well as her other two coworkers are the first of their kind at Berry. “It’s always a developing relationship in a sense,” she said, “For me, I love that I can be a person to not only get to know my clients, but also be someone that they feel they can safely be open with. We try our best to create a safe and neutral environment. Whatever the client brings to the table, we’re open to it. We want this to be a very non-judgemental space.” Baluta expressed gratitude for this opportunity with the counseling center, saying, “I know that there aren’t a lot of senior psychology majors who are able to work jobs like this, so I’m extremely thankful for it.”
“I’ve always been interested in therapy and counseling,” Asa Daniels, peer wellness coach, said, “so when I was informed about peer wellness coaching, I became really excited so I looked into it. I had never heard about any kind of student counseling program at the undergraduate level. It seemed like a great opportunity, and Berry is always talking about great opportunities.” Daniels plans to take the skills and experiences he has gained in this position throughout the rest of his career path. He said, “I plan to go to graduate school and enroll in a clinical psychology graduate program.”