spring / summer 1996
2.1 History of peercounseling
2.2 Central elements
3.2 Active listening
3.3 Problem solving
3.4 Body awareness
3.6 Personal growth
4.1 Requirements peercounselers
5.1 Where ?
The purpose of this document is twofold:
1 To offer to those interested in the subject a short overview of the history, goals and use of peercounseling, and a more detailed description of the method and principles.
2 To offer to the international community a concept of peercounseling that can serve as a basis for a discussion on European standardisation.
The question may be raised whether standardisation of peercounseling is a neccesary or desirable step in its further career in Europe.
A qualified „yes“ was the answer to this of peercounselers of six countries at a meeting in Erlangen, Germany, in 1995. During international conferences and workshops it had become apparent that different (groups of) people in different countries use the word peercounseling for a variety of activities. This can confuse and/or slow down the international exchange of knowledge, experiences, skills and strategies. Also, it makes any claim on the European taxpayer’s money, for training and exchange, less convincing.
At the same time we must recognise the fact that the social structures in the various European countries differ considerably. Therefore, the needs and stategies of the respective emancipative movements of handicapped people differ also. Peercounseling may be most useful in one way in one country, and differently in another.
The challenge then is to create a coherent standard European Peercounseling Manual that leaves enough room for application of the method in ways most suited to the needs of the moment and the situation.
I am grateful to all those that contributed to the development of peercounseling over the years, and to HELIOS Headquarters in Brussels for sponsoring this document.
Peter van Kan
peercounseler / trainer
The Netherlands Spring 1996
About material used:
I have tried to make this document a readable and lively one and have left out references in the text altogether. No doubt that makes it look less scientific, but hopefully not less usable.
In the section about listening skills and problem solving, I have quoted freely from material written by Bill and Vicky Bruckner, peercounseling trainers and wonderful people.
The poem „Listen“, plus a cute line here or there, come from Carol Patterson’s 1990 San FranciscoTraining Manual.
For the rest: so many people have contributed to my knowledge and experience of the subject, that I could not begin to name them all, even if I knew all those names. From American pioneers in the sixties to counselees that taught me a good lesson: Thank you; God has you all in Her notebook.
The shaping of peercounseling is an ongoing proces. Anybody is free to use any part of the material presented here, as far as I’m concerned.
It seems that what is „politically correct“ in one language/country, isn’t in another. I use the words handicap and disablility without intending to charge them with some subtle, hidden meaning.
May I suggest we do not make verbal correctness, although not without meaning, the focus of our effort to work towards a truly humane society ? To describe the dead as „people that have left their body“ would be very correct, but nobody would want to talk about them if we had to call them that. It’s simply too long.
About therapy and counseling:
A comparison between therapy and peercounseling seemed to me unneccesary. The subject has been discussed already on many occasions. It seems to me that peercounseling can now be described and used as it is, in its own right.
For the same reason, I have not copied any of the existing extensive lists of what a (peer)counseler should and shouldn’t do, be or think. Those things are, in my opinion, implied in what is written in this document about the method and philosophy of peercounseling.
About where to find the author:
Burg. Stroinkweg 124
8344 XR Onna
phone ..31 521 512927 fax ..31 521 515076
The history of peercounseling starts in the USA, in the mid-sixties. Handicapped students then had much more practical and social difficulties to overcome than they have now. At Berkeley-university, pioneers of the Independent Living movement decide to meet regularly and give each other „time“. Meaning, one talks, about studies, problems with assistence, daily forms of discrimination, how it all feels, etc., and the other listens. A short break, and then the other talks and the one listens. This kind of sharing and supporting, be it in formal or informal ways, was and is not uncommon among students in America.
Gradually, over the years, more and more handicapped people in and outside of university life pick up the idea. They use elements of humanistic therapyforms (Rogers; co-counseling) and mix them with other techniques that have proven succesful in other emancipative movements, such as the womens, Afro-Americans and gays.
Peercounseling becomes an important tool for empowerment in the Independent Living movement in the USA. „Independent Living“ being the phrase, at the same time intention and political statement, that is used by the handicapped individuals that claim ful integration in society as a civil right. By the 1980’s all Centers for Independent Living in America offer peercounseling in their programs.
Through contacts between individuals first and organisations later, the philosophy of Independent Living, and in its wake the method of peercounseling, crosses the ocean and lands on fertile soil in various European countries. A big difference between the start of peercounseling in the USA and in Europe, is that in Europe the emancipative movement of people with a handicap is already well established when the method is „imported“. Naturally, over the years peercounseling goes through an evolutionary process. Elements are added, training programs refined and different fields of application found. Initially taken up in the USA mainly by severely handicapped people that made the transition from institutional to community living, peercounseling is now applied in relation to a wide variaty of topics, such as self-assesment; employment of assistents; jobfinding; etc.
Presently, in America peercounseling is an accepted and appreciated addition to the longer known forms of profesional support and therapy. In Europe the value of peercounseling is beginning to be recognised, both within the emancipative movement of handicapped people itself and by official and gouvernemental bodies. The Helios program of the European Community offers in this respect a platform for international exchange of experiences, skills and strategies.
Peercounseling should not be confused with peersupport. The difference between the two is that the latter is more general (informal help; general information and advice given by and to peers), whereas peercounseling is a structured method.
2.2 CENTRAL ELEMENTS
There are several definitions of peercounseling in existence. A well-known one reads „Peercounseling is the use of problemsolving skills and active listening, to support people who are our peers*“.
However, the term „peercounseling“ refers to a body of techniques and at the same time to an approach to people and their difficulties and challenges. It is the combination of these two aspects that makes peercounseling what it is. Any short definition will therefor be inadequate to capture the essence of it. Let us look then at the central elements of the method:
– The basic premise behind peercounseling is that generally people are capable of finding their own solutions to their own difficulties and their own ways of reaching their goals.
– The fact that the peercounseler is a peer of the counselee provides the contact between the two with a basis that no amount of explaining could ever do. This common life-experience makes a relaxed, to the point exchange possible, further enhanced by the confidentiality of all that is being said and done during a session.
– At the same time the equality of both individuals, or in case of a groupsession of all involved, is established. Although counseler and counselee have different roles in the peercounseling-setting, as human beings and as individuals sharing a common life-experience, they are equal and working „side by side“ during the sessions.
– All techniques used during peercounseling, whether they be concerned with dialoque, body-awareness, problemsolving or otherwise, have in common that they support the counselee in getting to know and experience him/herself, tap into his/her own sources of creativity, become aware of his/her own emotions, desires, physical needs etc.
– Behind the experience of peercounseler and counselee is the accumulated experience of handicapped people the world over. Many seemingly individual problems will come to be seen in a more general, political, social or cultural context.
– The counselee is „running the show“. Decisions about when to stop or start and where to go are up to him/her. In other words: the responsability of making the most of the potential of peercounseling rests with the counselee.
* A peer can be someone in the same situation, or someone with the same age, culture or background. In this context „peer“ means someone who acknowledges having a disability and shares a common life-experience (living with a handicap in the same society).
As is often the case, the nature of peercounseling is perhaps better captured in the following poem than in the lines above.
When I ask you to listen to me
and you start giving me advice, you have not done what I asked.
When I ask you to listen to me
and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings.
When I ask you to listen to me
and you feel you have to do something to solve my problem, you have failed me,
strange as that may seem.
Listen! All I asked was that you listen, not talk or do – just hear.
Advice is cheap; twenty cents will get you both Dear Abby and Billy Graham in the same newspaper.
And I can do for myself. I’m not helpless. Maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless.
When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself, you contribute to my fear and inadequacy.
But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I can quit trying to convince you and can get about this business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling.
And when that’s clear, the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice. Irrational feelings make sense when we understand what’s behind them.
Perhaps that’s why prayer works, sometimes for some people – because God is mute, and He/She doesn’t give advice or try to fix things.
„They“ just listen and let you work it out for yourself.
So please listen and just hear me.
And if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn – and I’ll listen to you.
1 Information about people shared in peercounselingsessions is strictly confidential. What is shared in a group stays in that group; what is said in pairs, stays in those pairs.
2 Wishes, rights, values and beliefs of a counselee are respected. No judgements are made in peercounselingsessions.
3 Giving information can be part of peercounseling; giving advice can not.
4 Counselees are free at any time to make their own choices, to end the sessions; to not answer questions; to not take responsability in a group.
5 Peercounseling is done on a basis of equality.
6 Whenever a counselee needs support beyond the the limits of peercounseling, he/she is referred to the appropiate organisation/person(s)/ institution.
7 Counselees receive at all times clear information about peercounseling and the peercounseler, as well as information about the purpose and processes of techniques used before they are used.
As mentioned before, peercounseling has played an important role in the development and succes of the Independent Living movement in America. It has served as a motor in the social and political struggle for equal opportunities, by empowering, helping raise awareness and providing spaces for inspiration and support. At the same time, the method itself is meant to be an instrument at the service of the individual. Peercounseling is not a club one can belong to, or a banner to follow.
What then makes peercounseling so (potentially) beneficial to people with a disability ? Ignoring for the moment the natural differences in experience between individuals, we apply the central elements described in 2.2 to individuals with a handicap:
The fact that peers share certain life-experiences, enables them to share about these in an atmosphere of trust and openness, without fear of not being understood. The difference between sharing an experience and merely talking about it, is often the difference between feeling accepted as one is and feeling alone.
A counselee is supported in whatever he/she feels is the best way, approach or decision in a given situation. Together with the relevant information recieved, instructive stories heard and inspiring rolemodels met, this supports the counselee’s growth in selfrespect and selfconfidence. The conviction „I can do that“ replaces the idea of being helpless, inadequate or inferior. Maximum autonomy becomes an option instead of a dream.
A peercounseler serves as a rolemodel by being there. For the counselee to meet people that have been through similar struggles, major or minor, as him/herself, can be most inspiring. „Live-learning“ is an effective way of sharing skills, possible solutions, ideas, and attitudes.
When we are in a situation we are unhappy about, or we feel down, or hopeless, or angry, the tendency can be to narrow our view and think this is something to do with u: „There must be something wrong with me“. Well, sometimes there is. However, it can also be that we are in a disadvantaged position, disqualified or discriminated against, for reasons that have nothing to do with who we are.
Handicapped people, in general, did not and still do not have the same opportunities in society as everybody else. The realisation „I am not the only one; I am not alone in this“ helps us see the difference between encountering obstacles that tell us something about us, and those that tell us something about the way society deals with people with disabilities.
The above explains why a person decides to have peercounselingsessions. It also suggest when the need for sessions could be strongest. Naturally, this is up to the individual to decide, but it follows that peercounseling is often used in times of transition. Or, in other words, whenever there is a desire to raise the level of autonomy in one’s life.
Peercounseling has proven to be a major contributing factor to this greater autonomy. It has helped individuals to take initiatives they hadn’t otherwise taken, such as: Finding or changing a job, applying for neccesary services or canceling meaningless ones, starting or ending a relationship, moving to a more independent living situation, organising transport, travelling, finding right or canceling wrong medical treatment, etc. Both the individual and society as a whole benefit from these changes in attitude and level of independence.
Peercounseling can be and is done in various settings and set-ups. All of these share all of the central elements mentioned before.
In peercounseling there is no strict limit to the number of sessions had, years continued, participants in a group, peercounselers used up, etc. It all depends on the needs of the counselee(s) and the availability of a peercounseler.
Peercounseling can be done:
– individually or in a group
– for a fixed number of sessions or not
– for a fixed period of time or not
– with or without a specific theme
– as part of a training or for the hell of it
History teaches us that in this world some things work better than other things:
Generally speaking, we see that the higher the degree of commitment and clarity of purpose on the part of the counselee, the more effective peercounselingsessions will be. Clarity enhances commitment. In case of groupsessions therefore, establishing the number of sessions one is going to have is almost a neccesity; in an individual setting it can be helpfull.
As a counselee needs time to digest what is experienced in a session or to carry out elements of his/her plans, having an appropiate time-interval between sessions is important. In the case of theme-related sessions, this is a matter of weeks, so as not to loose flow and focus.
Newly formed groups need both time and intensity to grow into a safe and dynamic unit. Ideally they plan a weekend for their first meeting. A formula that has proven both comfortable and effective for groups, is: one weekend as a start, followed by 5 to 10 daysessions with intervals of 2 weeks.
An option for groups is to start with the support of a peercounseler (or two) and carry on without, once the momentum and the awareness of what peercounseling is all about is there.
Individual sessions can last anywhere between 1 and 3 hours.
Whatever structure or set-up is chosen, it should allow and ideally enhance an atmosphere of positivity, challenge and dynamism. The moment peercounseling becomes a habit or a drag, it looses its efectiviness altogether.
With regards to the combination of counselee(s) and peercounseler:
The number of differerent handicaps in existence is infinite. The number of peercounselers however isn’t. It stands to reason that the more common ground is shared by a counseler and a (group of) counselee(s), the better. To hire a deaf peercounseler for working with a group of blind people, would mean to miss the point of peercounseling altogether.
Peercounseling is a combination of:
1 a philisophy about or an approach to people, and
2 a number of techniques.
One without the other can be interesting or usefull, but cannot be called peercounseling.
The approach to people in peercounseling is implied in its principles and central elements. Techniques applied are:
1 active listening
– paying attention
2 problem solving
– creative thinking
– identifying important elements
3 body awareness
– breath control
– goal establishing
5 personal growth
– working with emotions
– intuïtive approaches
3.2 ACTIVE LISTENING
Good listening constitutes at least 50% of peercounseling. The peercounseler uses specific skills to allow and encourage the talker to do the talking. There are also some basic „don’ts“ that are implied in the counseler’s responsability and role. These are:
1 don’t judge the person who is talking
2 don’t give personal advice
3 don’t interpret
4 don’t take responsability for the counselee’s problem
Active listening skills are:
3.2.1 Paying attention
It is very important that the listener pays careful attention to what the talker says. It is important also that the peercounseler demonstrates to the talker that he/she is paying attention. One way the listener shows that attention is being paid is through body language. These non-verbal ways include posture, facial expression and eye contact.
Regarding body posture: The listener should be comfortable and relaxed. He/she should also keep „the right distance“ from the talker. That is: not so close to be intrusive or so far to feel distant or far away.
Facial expression: The listener should maintain a natural facial expression. Automatically then, the moods and emotions of the speaker will be reflected in the listener’s face.
Eye contact: Good eye contact says „I am with you“. It means looking at a person, but not staring.
Another way of demonstrating that the listener is paying attention, is by encouraging the talker with words or sounds like „yes“, „uh huh“, „go on“ etc.
Finally, it is important that the talker not be interrupted, so that he/she determines the course of the conversation.
3.2.2 Using questions
The peercounseler uses questions to get information and to encourage the talker to say more about a situation. Closed questions are used to get information. For example:
„When did you first notice that ?“; „How old is your son ?“These questions can be answered by a simple „yes“ or „no“, or in a few words. Open questions are asked for the purpose of exploration. They encourage the talker to say more about a subject, to clarify what was said, or to focus on feelings. Examples:
„How do you feel about your job ?“; „What would you like to change ?“; „What would you like to talk about today ?“.
Questions should be asked sparingly, and never to satisfy the peercounseler’s curiousity.
A paraphrase is a brief statement that reflects the essence of what has been said. It is concise and conveys the same meaning, but uses different words. It is tentative, so that if it is not accurate, the talker will feel confortable in correcting the peercounseler. It therefore starts with a statement like „What I heard you say is…..“, or „Let me see if I’ve got it right. You said….“. A paraphrase will end with a question, such as „Is that right ?“or „Did I hear you correctly ?“.
The peercounseler uses paraphrases for three reasons:
1 It is another way of demonstrating that one is listening and understanding what the talker says.
2 It is a way to make sure that one heard correctly what the talker said.
3 It gives the talker the chance to hear what he/she just said. Hearing an accurate paraphrase helps the talker clarify for him/herself what he/she is thinking and feeling. It can bring new knowledge and perspective.
A summary is a combination of several paraphrases. It refers both to what the talker said and the feelings that were expressed. It ties content and feeling together. It captures the essence of what has been said, puts things in perspective; identifies important trends and themes that the talker expressed. A summary can also identify possible conflicts and decisions that have been made.
As with a paraphrase, a summary may distort or interpret what the talker said. Therefore it is important to check with the talker to confirm that one is not adding to or subtracting from what the he/she said. A summary is tentative and brief and ends wirth the question „Is that right ?“.
Often a summary is used near the end of a session. It can give the talker a clear image of the entire meeting. It can also help the talker to decide whether he/she wants to have another meeting with the peercounseler.
3.3 PROBLEM SOLVING
Peercounseling can be used to assist a person with a disability to solve his/her own problems. The peercounseler can ask questions and provide techniques to help the counselee clarify which actions, if any, he/she wants to take and when. Different steps in this process are:
3.3.1 Defining the problem
The peercounseler assist the counselee in defining the problem. Which problem does he/she want tofocus primary attention on ? What are the important characteristics of this problem ? When does it occur, and with whom ? These are questions which help the talker to look closely at all aspects of the problem and be be specific about how it affects his/her life.
3.3.2 Creative thinking
The human mind is an instrument capable of incredible things. Probably the greatest achievement sofor is the invention and development of the computer; the apparatus that makes life for the human mind so much easier by doing the work for it.
Unfortunately the mind has its weaknesses too. Two of them being a tendency to use the same information in the same way over and over again, and to define new information in terms of the old. In other words, the mind likes habits. How often do we fail to see the solution to what we percieve to be a problem, not because there isn’t any solution, but because we keep on going over the same old considerations and come to the same old conclusions ? The mind is going round in circles and we are „stuck“. What is needed then, is a new way of looking at the same situation, or a new combination of the same data.
Creative thinking techniques help us do that. There are many of these. What they have in common is that they invite, entice or force the mind to move out of the patterns it has created, or to get out of the way altogether.
Before, or in addition to, using creative thinking techniques, the peercounseler can help the counselee(s) identify available solutions to a problem. Questions can be asked about what options for solving the problem already have occured to hem/her, and which ones have already been tried. Sometimes the information the peercounseler has to offer can increase the available alternatives.
A few examples of creative thinking techniques are:
One is invited to voice immediately whatever idea comes to mind in (loose) connection with the subject. The effective elements of this technique are the speed, plus the fact that these ideas are not expected to make sense. Fear of criticism is often a factor in our inability to go beyond the familiair.
A more female way of thinking, as opposed to the male logic. Useful for both sexes of course.
Starting from one word, image or idea, whatever comes to mind next is voiced or written down immediately. This provides us with an insight into our personal mental and emotional context of the original image, word, etc. There are countless ways of using associations in problemsolving.
A different „associative“ way of letting unconcious information come to the surface, is visualisation (see 3.6.2.). Dreaming is also a form of that: many inventions and new ideas were stumbled upon in dreams or dreamlike experiences.
The seemingly impossible can turn out to be not only possible but even feasable and attractive options, when the mind is pushed out of its routines. This can be done by puttting it under pressure, or leading it away from logic. Example:
„Think of one way you could earn money. Then think of another. Name three elements that these two ways have in common. Now think of a way that has none of these three common elements in it.“
3.3.3 Identifying important elements
Sometimes alternatives available or new approaches to a situation are unacceptable to the counselee, or even frightening, because of personal values that he/she does not wish to violate or question. The peercounseler respects these values, even if he/she doesn’t share them, and acknowledges that they have a powerful effect on the counselee’s life and the choices to be made.
It can be helpful to distinguish between different elements that are part of a complex problem: practical issues; emotional difficulties; things that can be helped and things that cannot; etc. Broken down into smaller units, a complex situation becomes easier to oversee and deal with.
The peercounseler can assist here by asking open questions about what the consequences of carrying out specific alternatives might be. Such open ended questions give a powerful message to the couselee: the message that in fact he/she is capable of handling the problem if all alternatives are thought through and actions well planned. This is part of the important self-empowerment aspect of peercounseling.
After discussing all available alternatives, the counselee may find that one of these is the most desirable option. In this case, choosing which alternative to implement is simple. At other times it is more difficult for the counselee to make a choice.
The peercounseler can assist by summarizing the available information about each alternative, reflecting the counselee’s feelings about each option, and paying careful attention tot the point the counselee has reached in the decision making process. Discussing feelings and accurately paraphrasing the information that the counselee has given about possible alternatives, is of great help. It is also helpful to pause, when the counselee introduces a new topic, and ask if he/she wants to continue with that topic before arriving at a decision. This helps to keep the discussion focused on the decision itself.
Once the counselee chooses a plan to follow, he/she may want to discuss the details of implementing the plan with the peercounseler. Feelings of fear, enthusiasm, reluctance or anticipation may come up for which the peercounseler can offer support. Sometimes also practical information can be given to make the carrying out of a plan easier.
3.4 BODY AWARENESS
The importance of body awareness lies in the fact that the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of a human being are all interrelated. It is not that long ago that scientists or doctors would have objected to the idea that our way of thinking has an effect on our body (and vice versa); the body on our emotions, etc. By now, this has been suffficiently demonstrated and found to be so.
It stands to reason that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for any person to feel at home on this planet and in this society, without feeling at home in or with his/her own body. Integration cannot start outside of us. A wholistic outlook on society has its basis in a wholistic approach to our life. Without selfrespect, how can one expect respect from others ? Selfrespect includes respect for one’s own body, regardless of its size, shape or abilities.
There are no specific peercounseling-body-awareness tecnniques. The attentive, respectfull observing of the state, needs and feelings of the body, was originally introduced in our culture through yoga. Now many profesionals in the medical, therapeutic and recreative fields use yoga or yogalike techniques, mixed with whatever they learned during their training. Body awareness and yoga should not be confused with either fitness or emotional bodywork. The focus in body awareness is solely on experiencing, making contact with, allowing breath and body to be, feeling the need of. It can be fun too.
What techniques are used and how intensively, depends on the counselee’s needs and wants, and on the skills and level of body awareness of the peercounseler.
Important elements in practice are: 3.4.1 Relaxation A relaxed body helps us to feel at home with ourselves, recognise our real needs and true feelings. Focusing the attention on differents parts of the body one by one, we become aware of any tension present in those parts. By using the outbreath in letting go of those tensions, the body gradually relaxes and becomes more comfortable. This is automatically accompanied by a deeper and/or slower breath and a sense of well-being. Another doorway to relaxation is the tensing, holding tense and relaxing of bodyparts, combined with inbreath, holding of the breath and outbreath. Visualisation can be usefull in helping others relax. Relaxation must not be confused with drowsiness or slowness: it is alert, conciously enjoyed passivity. It can be a good start of a session, an efficient short break during longer sessions, and/or a way of grounding after or during emotional moments.
The importance of posture is twofold: a correct posture supports correct breathing, which in turn is needed for an optimal inflow of energy. At the same time, our posture has a strong psychological effect. Language is one indicator of this: „being upright; looking down on; feeling down; going up“ etc.
Never will a counselee be criticized for a having a less than optimal posture. The word „optimal“ here refers not to an effort of a person to be judged, but simply to the connection between posture and energysupply. The fact that our physical habits and conducts can either support or hamper the fulfillment of our intentions, is something the peercounseler shall radiate and so convey between the lines. Mirroring body language, or inviting one another to investigate bodyposture: in these ways the physical translation of our hopes and fears, intentions and biases, comes into play during peercounselsessions.
Taking responsability for our physical wellbeing, including for instance the shape of a wheelchair, can be an important step in gaining more control over our lives.
3.4.3 Breath control
Another grounding technique is observation of breath, and letting it gradually sink to the lower abdomen. Breath control can be an important tool in dealing with emotions, unwanted excitement or fears.Depending on the needs at a given time, the practice of breath control can be kept to a minimum or deepened into full yogic breath or meditative breathing.
Note: The practise of these techniques either follows naturally from the course of events in a peercounselingsession, or comes under „giving information“. Peercounseling is not yoga, t’ai chi or any of such systems. It uses elements from these that serve its purpose.
In many cases the process of planning will be connected with problem solving. For the sake of clarity, the various stages of planning are presented here as if they are an isolated process. Together they constitute an „Individual Independent Living Plan“.
3.5.1 Goal establishing Between a wish and a goal lies a world of difference. The number of wishes we have seems infinite, whereas we generally pursue only a few goals in our lives. Choice, priority and commitment play the main roles on the road from wish to goal. The essence of techniques that are helpfull in this respect, is contained in the following sequence:
= Use free fantasy or visualisation to become concious of desires and wishes.
= Screen these, using questions such as „Do I really want that ? What if that came true ? Am I trying to please or pacify others ? Does this fit in with who I am and with my values ? Can I use my talents in this ?“
= Describe remaining wishes in concrete terms.
= Consider how urgent, realistic, fruitful, important, etc. these are.
= Choose the highest scoring wish(es) and turn them into goal(s) by making a commitment and naming the desired date of attainment.
Once a goal has been established, a list is needed of what needs to be done in order to reach that goal. Whatever comes to mind as being neccesary or possibly helpfull at any stage of the project, goes onto that list.
Next comes categorisation of all these elements. Each of the, usually 3 to 6 categories, has a name, such as „support needed“, „material“, „training“, „location“, etc.
Of all the elements in the various categories the time, money and means needed is estimated.
A well known peercounseling phrase reads „A goal is a dream with a timeline“. Simple as it sounds, all that is needed (in theory, of course) to attain a goal is to put the „things that need to be done“ in the correct order and then do them.
Apart from order, an important element in routing is the division of time into pieces, such as a week, a month, three months, a year. Instead of a mass of „work yet to do“, one then has some things to do this week, some this month, etc. The road to succes is travelled step by step.
This is an ongoing process. Rather than wondering „what has gone wrong ?“ at the end of a project, we build in moments of reflection and evaluation along the way, starting the moment we have a route mapped out. Relevant questions are „What happened with …… How did it make you feel ? What do you think would have worked ?“
Generally, evaluation results in changes in checklist and routing. It is important that this is understood to be part of the project, not a matter of failure.
3.6 PERSONAL GROWTH
Personal growth ? Peercounseling itself results in personal growth, unless its not done properly. The techniques described here need a heading, and since they deal directly with a person’s inner life, „personal growth“ seems an appropiate one.
3.6.1 Working with emotions
Allowing the counselee to explore his/her own feelings, is an essential part of peercounseling. Often a person cannot move toward the solving of a problem until emotions about it are expressed. Acceptance of those emotions by the counseler is implied in the approach to people that is part of the basis of peercounseling.
For many people it is difficult to recognise their own feelings and to express them openly. Fear, shame, pride etc. can cause us to either completely suppress our emotions, or make them come out in an indirect or distorted way. Sometimes what a person says does not correspond with what he/she is communicating non-verbally. It is important then for the peercounseler to be aware of the counselee’s facial expression, body posture, tone of voice, etc. By mirroring, radiating the invitation to share and asking questions, we can support another in the exploration of feelings. Three basic steps in this are:
= Help the counselee identify his/her feelings
a Ask „open questions“. For example: „How does that make you feel ?“
b Paraphrase spoken feelings: „Sounds like you are really sad about what happened“ or „It seems you really don’t feel up to trying again“.
c Reflect feelings. Like: when the talker looks sad, show some feelings of sadness on your face. (Often one will do this naturally).
d Comment on the talker’s body language. Like: „I notice your body looks tense today. How do you feel ?“
= Help the counselee explore and clarify his/her feelings.
Ask open questions about when the feelings come up and how these feelings affect the talker’s thoughts and behaviour. Does he/she find them to be a problem, or are they a source of strength and power ? What, if anything, does the talker wish to do when these feelings come up ? Do they influence the talker’s relationship with other people or his/her immediate goals ?
= Provide emotional support
A peercounseler is prepared to sit and be with a person expressing feelings, in silence, tears, joy or anger. It is important to let the counselee know and feel that his/her feelings are accepted as they are. Often, we just want to be listened to and be „heard“ and not „judged“. By facial expression and body language, the peercounseler shows that he/she is following and empathizing with what is being shared.
Two situations need special attention: If a counselee describes a situation similar to one the peercounseler has experienced and had similar feelings about, it can be useful to make a brief statement about this. However, this should not lead the attention away from the counselee. Simply saying „I have been through that, too“, is often enough to let the talker know he/she is not alone in this.
In case a counselee brings up very unexpected feelings or exhibits very unusual behaviour that makes the peercounseler feel uncomfortable, the latter does wise to explain that this needs to stop before the conversation can be continued. If neccesary, the counselee shall be referred to someone else.
3.6.2 Visualisation and affirmation
In order to understand the processes of visualisation and affirmation, it is neccesary to understand the link between states of conciousness and the speed of brainwaves. The following schedule shows this relationship: name level vibrations/second state of conciousness
beta 14 – 21 daily conciousness / action
alpha 7 – 14 slumber / meditation / deep relaxation
theta 4 – 7 sleep / dreaming
delta 0 – 4 deep dreamless sleep
The level we are primarily interested in here, is the alpha. We reach this level everyday at least twice: in the transition from wakefulness to sleep and from sleep to wakefulness. Also during deep relaxation and in meditation, the brain slows down to this speed. What makes this level interesting and useful, is the fact that for the „alphamind“ there is no such thing as negation or duality. And therefore, no choice, judgement or strife. Everything is, comes and goes spontaneously. The alphamind „thinks“ in images or impressions. The two hemispheres of the brain function in harmony on alphalevel, balancing male and female perceptions of the world and ourselves.
Because of the non-critical nature of the alphalevel, we are most susceptible for suggestions in this state of mind. The gateway to the subconcious plane is open.
In visualisation we use this fact to let information come up from the subconcious to the conciousness plane. The process of selection and judgement, natural to the betamind, does not come in the way. This can not only help us come in contact with suppressed aspects of ourselves, but also let us experience our spiritual nature and innate freedom. Visualisation also helps us realise the creative power of the mind, and the extent to which we create our own lives by our perceptions, convictions and images.
The challenge for the peercounseler in guiding a visualisation is to give enough suggestions for the counselee to stay in the flow of the process, at the same time allowing enough freedom for images or impressions to spontaneously appear and become „part of the show“. The more detailed the counselee’s images are, the more vivid and effective is a visualisation. These details are created by his/her subconcious mind, not by the peercounseler’s will. It follows from the nature of the alphamind that no verbal negations are used in a guided visualisation.
Simple use of visualisation is allowing ourselves to fantasize or daydream.
An example of a longer (15 – 20 minutes) guided visualisation (not for beginners):
„Relax ….imagine yourself alone out in the countryside… you see on old tower in the meadows…what shape and color has it got ?… you go to it…there is a doorway… you enter…… and see steps leading down to a cellar….. you enter the cellar.. what does the room look like ?….. what kind of furniture is there ? ……are there people there…. if so, do you know them ?……. look around and stay a while…… go back up….. there is a door on the groundfloor also…..go in… what do you see ?…etc.. go back out …up the stairs….what do you see ?…….etc……leave the tower…and the meadows….come back here in this room slowly….relax and have a stretch.“
This visualisation, usually done with a group and followed by sharing, can give us valuable insights into our hopes and fears in past, present and future.
Affirmation is a related yet totally different technique.
We all make choices, and so color and create our own lives. These choices are partly based on reason, partly on intuition, and partly on subconcious convictions about ourselves and the world. When using affirmations, we send messages down to the subconcious level. Deeprooted negative convictions about ourselves can thus be replaced by convictions that work for us instead of against.
Example: If there’s a voice at the back of our head saying „I can’t do that“ all the time we are faced with a challenge, this will continue be a self-fulfilling prophesy, untill we do something about it. By affirming „I can do it“ over and over again while the brain functions at alphalevel, we will gradually become more and more confident and succesful persons. The more often we „do“ our affirmation and the more relaxed we are while doing it, the stronger the effect will be. Doing affirmations together with others can be both enhancing and fun.
Pointers for the formulation of an affirmation:
– make your own
– use the present tense
– avoid negations
– start with „I“
– be precise and brief
Playing out a situation can help us in exploring attitudes and feelings we are not aware of, or help us prepare for situations we feel insecure in. A roleplay is not drama or theatre: it is a short, semi-improvised acting out of a given situation, always followed by an evaluation.
Example: A counselee is nervous about a job-interview. The situation is played out, first with the counselee in the role of the manager of the company, then as him/herself. A minimum of props is used, and the playing is over in 10-15 minutes. Evaluation starts with the counselee sharing what it felt like, etc. Then the peercounseler and/or other counslees share their observations.
Some people tend to shy away from partaking in a roleplay. No pressure will be put on anybody at any time to participate. Often one will want to give it a try later ( and not seldom enjoy doing it). And if not, that’s fine too.
3.6.4 Intuitive approaches
In addition to guided visualisation, there are other techniques that can help us come in contact with deeper levels of awareness and our creative sources. If, when and how these are used, depends again on the ability of the peercounsler and the needs of the counselee. Examples are: – Tarotcards
– Intuitive painting or drawing.
4.1 REQUIREMENTS FOR PEERCOUNSELERS
Clearly, not every individual with a disability could function as a peercounseler. What then, are the requirements to meet for those wanting to participate in a training for peercounselers ?
= In the first place, the applicant must have a handicap. The question may be posed „Where do we draw the line ?“ Is the loss of one breast or a slight limp enough to join the ranks of „the disabled“ ?
The question has more theoretical then practical value. Obviously, the loss of one toe will not make a counseler recognise from experience the social, emotional and practical difficulties that one encounters living with a disability in our society. Sharing a common life-experience is the keyphrase here. Generally, understanding what is peercounseling will make the toeless refrain from applying.
In case of doubt, the decision is up to the trainer or supervisor of the project.
= Secondly, the applicant must have dealt with the emotional aspect of his/her handicap. At least to such an extent that his/her experiences can be made useful during sessions, without letting personal emotions direct the course of events. This is not a matter of suppression, but of seeing things, including one’s own emotions, in proportion. When appropiate, a peercounseler will show emotion, rather than shamefully hiding it.
Part of dealing with a disability is developing a positive relationship with one’s own body.
= Thirdly, some experience in working with people, whether profesionally, in self-help groups or elsewhere, is required. In other words, one needs to have a minimum of social skills and interest in other people.
= Lastly, the applicant needs to be able to serve as a rolemodel. That implies a level of inner independence and social integration that can inspire others.
4.2 PEERCOUNSELERS TRAINING
The training of peercounselers is a subject outside of the scope of this document. What can be established here is that thorough training is required, in order to ensure an acceptable level of quality in peercounseling. If this method is to take the place it deserves on the basis of its results (that is, a service that is considered as necessary as medical or psychological therapy or a social worker’s service), clarity about what is peercounseling plus an ensured quality of the peercounselers, are neccesities.
There are several peercounseling training manuals in existence, completely or partly based on American material. The publication of a comprehensive training manual for the European Community would be a major step forward on the road to international application of the method and easy exchange of experiences and skills between countries.
Training, it should be emphasized here, does not end with a certificate. Any person working as peercounseler should get either supervision from an experienced peercounseler, or, if that is not possible, intervision from one or two fellow-peercounselers. No peercounseler should work in isolation.
Note: The forming of an Association of professional peercounselers on a national level can be an important step towards general recognition of peercounseling as a method, as well as a means of enhancing quality of performance. The drawing up of a professional code for members has taken place in Germany and England. For information about these associations and for copies of these codes: see list of addresses.
5.1 WHERE ? (and who pays ?)
So, peercounseling is an effective method and its results are wonderful. But where and when does the average European person with a disability do it ? Where in the neighbourhood does one find a peercounseler, and who pays for the sessions ?
There is no direct and simple answer to these questions. Partly because peercounseling is relatively new; a not yet commonly known instrument in development. Also, the situation is different in each country of the European Community.
Presently, peercounseling is being offered as a service by Independent Living Centers, by organisations of handicapped people, and by free-lance trainers. Some peercounselers are paid for their services, some are volunteers. The material used and amount of training had, varies.
Whether all of these activities can or should indeed be called peercounseling, is a matter for discussion.
Cash flow often indicates where needs live, interests lie and awareness is. Looking at the current situation in a number of countries:
Sometimes (Germany) peercounseling is offered by an Independent Living Center to any person with a handicap interested. Money comes from the budgets of the centers.
In other cases (Scandinavia, Finland) peercounseling is part of the service offered by an I.L.Center to an individual becoming employer of a personal assistent. I.L.Centers in Europe generally are directly or indirectly funded by national and/or local gouvernment (and can have extra income from activities and/or donations).
Where there are no I.L.Centers (The Netherlands) there is theme-related peercounseling by free lance peercounselers. These are hired by institutions or organisations such as schools, regional services or social training centers, or operate on the free market.
In the absense of centers or of trainings for counselers (Italy, France, Belgium) more informal ways of peercounseling are offered. Money comes from various sources.
Mixtures of these forms, or different forms of peercounseling offered by different organisations (Britain, Ireland) are yet other kinds of local situations.
Confusing as this all may sound, the overall picture is clear: Organisations of handicapped people are aware of the effectiveness of peercounseling. They offer it as a service in whatever way they can. In some cases the importance of peercounseling has been recognised by gouverning bodies.
Generally speaking, the status of peercounseling is not yet on the same level as of other forms of effective support, such as therapy. This hampers the process of recruting and training potential peercounselers. Peercounseling is at present a service that is available to some but by no means all individuals with a disability in the European Community.
In going from the present to the future, the question to be answered remains: In what way can peercounseling be best made available to the handicapped individual ? Inevitably connected with that is the discussion on „who pays and why ?“.
6.1 APPENDIX „WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE ?“
On various occasions Helios-participants have stressed the importance of peercounseling as an effective instrument in the movement towards autonomy and equality of people with a disability. Much has been done in various countries to further the development and use of this method.
At the same time, a clear definition (in the sense of a generally accepted content) of peercounseling is lacking. International exchange does take place, but not frequently or intensively. Also, not every national organisation interested in peercounseling is aware of what other organisations in the same country are doing or planning to do in this respect. (It is one reason why it has been impossible to give a detailed survey in this paper of the peercounsel-situation in all participating countries).
In order to create, both on the national and international level, more clarity and sense of direction with regards to peercounseling, certain topics need to be discussed and, more importantly, decided on.
In order to provide that discussion with some structure, we present here a list of relevant proposals. They are few in number, but much is implied. May they be helpful.
6.2 PROPOSALS (to be discussed, agreed or disagreed with)
Peercounseling is a specific method, of which the description is internationally known and accepted. All other forms of counseling between individuals or in groups, self-help activities, sharing of information, giving advice etc, shall be called by a diferent name.
Peercounselers are being paid for their services.
Peercounselers have had a peercounseler-training and recieved a certificate.
Equal opportunities and rights in society for all people is in the interest of all people. Therefore peercounseling, being an instrument in the effectuation of that equality, shall be financed mainly out of general funds.
The EUC shall provide funding for the establishing of a peercounseling manual (writing, discussing and deciding on) for the European Community.
Also for a peercounseler training manual.
Peercounseling material shall be free from copyrights
Bifos: Curriculum für die Weiterbildung für behindert Menschen in „Peercounseling“.
Bruckner, V. and B. (1994) Peercounseling
(Available both in English and in German) AstA Uni Mainz
D’Andrea,V and Salovey, P. (1983) Peercounseling
Palo Alto Science and Behavior Books
Hazelzet, A.M and Folkertsma, H.J. (1993) Samenvattend Rapport Onderzoek Peercouseling Scheveningen; Wierda, Overmars and Partners.
Independent Living Nederland Peercounseling Handboek
ILN / Allartoog-Hunneschans Uddel
Independent Living Resource Center, San Francisco (1994) Peercounseling Training Program
(also available in German from AStA Uni Mainz)
Miles-Paul, O. (1992) „Wir sind nicht mehr aufzuhalten“
München: AG SPAK-Bücher
Österwitz, I. (1988) Independent Living Bewegung „Behindertenpädaggogik“ 3 295 – 304
Ratzka, A. (1988) Austand der Betreuten. In A Mayer & J Rütter „Abscheid vom Heim“
Reinarz,T. (1995) ISL Weiterbildung zum „peercounselor“
Die randschau – Zeitschrift für Behindertenpolitik l 25 – 26
Rogers, C.R. (1951) Client Centered Therapy
Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Rösch, M (1995) „hm..hm..ja..hm“ Peercouseling und Psychotherapy
Die Randschau – Zeitschrift Für Behindertenpolitik 2
Sandfort, L. (1993) Ratschlagen will gelernt sein Kassel: Bifos Schriftenreihe band 7
Esmeralda, ich liebe dich nicht mehr Frankfurt/Main: Haag + Herchen
Saxton, M. (1983) Peercounseling In: N.M. Crewe & I.K. Zola „Independent Living for physically disabled people“ San Francisco: Jessey – Bass
Sierck, U. (1988) Autonom Leben – Erfahrungen meiner Reise in die USA
Behindertenpädagogik, 3 304-308
Tausch, R & A.M. (1990) Gespächs-Psychotherapie
Vereinigung Integrationsförderung (Hrsg) (1982) „Behindernde Hilfe oder Selbstbestimmung der Behinderten“ München: VIF e.V.