Just listening can make a difference 

By Barbara Black

As the pressure builds towards exams, some students are getting antsy, depressed and frustrated. Personal problems may have intruded on their academic life, or they may just feel overwhelmed.

The enthusiastic members of the Peer Support Program want to help. Pascale Fainé is in the fourth and last year of a degree that includes courses in psychology, sociology and marketing.

Paola Reyes and Pascale Fainé offer support to other students. Magnifying glass

Paola Reyes and Pascale Fainé offer support to other students.

“Two years ago, I was standing in the People’s Potato line-up and I saw a poster for the Peer Support group,” she said. “I thought it sounded interesting so I contacted the coordinator of the program, Ellie Hummel, and then one thing led to another. I have been there for a year and a half now, and it’s been a great experience.”

Every peer is expected to work three to four hours a week and attend a three-hour group meeting every second week. Fainé said, “It’s a big commitment, but I have gotten so much out of it that I have always felt that all the time and effort were worth it.”

Paola Reyes agrees. The third-year psychology student said, “I was searching for a volunteer experience that would fully satisfy me and make me grow. When I heard about the Peer Support Program, I knew it was exactly what I was looking for.”

Both peer supporters advise any stressed-out student to “come to our office as soon as possible.”

Fainé said, “It is normal to feel overwhelmed and stressed out as a student. Whether the student is struggling with classes, a housing situation, a relationship or an ethical dilemma, the peers are here to listen and support.”

The Peer Support team has 19 members, and Fainé called them “an amazing group of people. We all come from different backgrounds and have different life experiences, yet we come together as one strong group.”

Their training focused on the many Concordia services they could call on to help students. They took workshops on how to refer clients, and on queer issues and diversity. They also got a three-day workshop on how to improve their listening skills, which are crucial to the job.

The counsellors have learned a lot themselves. Reyes said, “At first, it was difficult to avoid telling people what they should do instead of helping them find their options to solve their own problems, but with time and practice I have gained more experience.”

“Before, I had difficulties trusting my gut feelings and being confident,” Fainé said. “Now that has changed.”

It can be frustrating when the right solution seems painfully obvious to her, Fainé added, but she has learned not to give advice but to be supportive of whatever the student chooses to do. “At the end of the day, the person who knows the best solution to the problem is not me, but the student.”

Reyes is sold on the value of this work to both the counsellor and counselled: “To tell the truth, I don't see any downside. Just listening to a student makes a difference.”

Because the Peer Support Program is a drop-in center, you don’t need an appointment. There will always be two peers available to assist all individuals who seek help — it’s confidential and free.

Just drop by the basement office Monday to Thursday between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. at Annex Z (2090 Mackay). The team is also at Loyola on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Guadagni Lounge. You can also call ext. 2859.


Concordia University