Students helping students: SASS peer counsellors have “been there”

Posted on Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bâtiment du service de santé.

The SASS office is located in the health services building, shown above, at 100 Marie-Curie Pvt.

By Brandon Gillet

Adjusting to university life can be difficult. It can quickly take its toll on a new student, which is why the Counselling and Coaching Service is here to help. A branch of the Student Academic Success Service (SASS), Counselling and Coaching can assign students a personal counsellor who can link them with a peer counsellor, a fellow student.

Peer counsellors are available at various times throughout the week to help students cope with personal issues, deal with stress, prepare for exams or just have someone to chat with over coffee. Peer counselling is comfortable, personable and effective for students who may need that occasional pat on the back to keep them going. Students can meet anywhere they like with counsellors, rather than be cooped up in an office.

Peer counsellors meet Mondays for mandatory job training, and they frequently touch base with University counsellors to get tips on how to handle specific types of situations.

Victoria Martindale.

Four students are employed as peer counsellors through the Work Study Program, while the fifth is this year’s volunteer counsellor, Victoria Martindale. Having just completed her bachelor’s in psychology at uOttawa, Martindale hopes to apply her volunteer time with SASS toward a master’s in educational counselling here.

But more than the academic benefits of her volunteer position, Martindale enjoys being able to make even one student feel better. Having lived a similarly hectic student lifestyle herself, she hopes to provide a way for students to let go of stress and get acquainted with university life.

“I hope to make it easier on them,” says Martindale. “It helps tremendously to talk to someone who knows what you are going through. It feels awesome.”

Another counsellor is Martin Segard, a third year biology student who applied through the Work Study Program. As is the case with many students who apply for every position in hopes of getting financial support, he gave the job little thought initially.

Martin Segard.

“Once I got the interview, I started looking into the job more thoroughly,” says Segard. “Then, I thought it would be beneficial and fun, as I am going into education.”

Segard believes a solid support network is generally very important, “especially in university.”

“There are first years moving from across the country or other countries, and they don’t know anyone,” says Segard.” “It really helps to have someone to just say, ‘It’s okay.’”

As for Carolyn Streich, a fourth-year bachelor of music student, she knows how beneficial peer counselling can be, having sought it out herself. She mentioned to her counsellor that she had an interest in professional counselling, at which point the latter suggested she become a peer counsellor.

Carolyn Streich.

Streich is now in her second year with the program, which she believes is a great resource for students looking to add people to their support system.

“I hope to bring awareness to mental health and aid in breaking down the stigmas surrounding it,” says Streich.

A key benefit of peer counselling is shared experience, according to Streich. Peer counsellors can apply the same strategies as professional counsellors, but with the added ability to relate personally.

“We’ve gone through the struggles and the victories that university life offers,” says Streich. “And we’re continuing to live it.”

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