*LEARNING THE ART OF COUNSELLING*
There has a been rise in the incidence of mental health challenges in the country especially amidst the youth. Students are a good percentage of this category of people and most of their challenges are often undiscovered and unattended to due to the stigma and the fear of opening up. In some cases, they open up to their friends and colleagues but these people are often ill-equipped to help them. In order to bridge this knowledge gap, Asido Campus Network organized a training session on Peer Counselling.
The mental health training themed "Learning the art of Counselling" started with Miss Eunice Edet Umoren, one of the facilitators of the training, making a presentation on peer counselling. She defined peer counseling and spoke about common students problems/issues that might result in mental unwellness some of which are: emotional problems (depression/anxiety), academic stress, relationship issues, sexual assault, anger and alcohol/drugs. She also defined internal conflict and went on to discuss the three broad categories of internal conflict. The categories which are: negative self appraisal, psychological conflict and conflicting needs.
Miss Umoren discussed the qualities of a peer counselor, which was very insightful as the trainees learnt that a peer counsellor should be patient, non-judgemental, empathetic, positive, confidential, knowledgeable; to mention a few. She also spoke about physical qualities like looking good and having a good sense of humour as a peer counselor.
Miss Umoren laid emphasis on making eye contact, being attentive and maintaining silence during a counseling session. She spoke about distancing too; according to her, a peer counselor should not be too far from the patient or too close to the him/her. She went on to mention some listening skills which were observation, paraphrasing and summarising and reflection of feeling.
She also took the trainees through the process of counseling which includes building trust, asking open ended questions during counselling sessions, follow ups and making referrals (to professionals) if more help is needed. She gave the advantages and disadvantages of peer counseling. One of the disadvantages she mentioned was uncooperativeness on the part of the student(who is being counselled) . Miss Umoren ended with saying, "Peer counseling can be mutually satisfying or it can be very frustrating."
Dr Tolulope Bella-Awusah stepped in for the question-and-answer session. It was very enlightening as we all learnt the importance of building trust and using persuasion skills to encourage students to open up. We also learnt that sharing personal stories encourage people as it let them know they are not alone. One of the questions that was asked was if a peer counselor with mental health issues can help another person that is mentally ill. Dr Bella-Awusah's response was, "A counselor with a mental health issue can help someone else with mental health issues, as long as the mental health issue isn't acute psychosis where the person has lost touch with reality." She also encouraged us to gain more knowledge as a peer counselor and to not let our personality be a hindrance when counselling because we can learn and build attitudes and virtues we don't have in us. She went on to explain that there is a difference between psychological therapy and counselling. She explained that psychological therapy deals with deeper issues like trauma and disorders.
Dr Jubril Abdulmalik, the founder of Asido Foundation , also discussed some very important points by letting us know peer counseling is very important as we are in the best position to determine when students like us have problems.
There was the role play session where different scenarios that different students played (which mirrored the reality of students and challenges that affect ones mental health) and we got to learn that we don't always have to say something nice as a counselor. Sometimes listening is just enough.
Reported by Jacintha Nosazeogie, a 200level student of the Department of Physiotherapy, University of Ibadan.