Peer counselors serve a specific group of individuals to which they belong in a counseling and advisement capacity under the supervision of a trained professional. Several benefits include lower costs and expanded services for clients, increased insight for professionals working with the individual and the group, and the opportunity for peer counselors to help others and gain valuable experience in their field. Peer counselors appear in many settings, including elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools, in groups for those struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, mental illness or disabilities, and for demographic groups such as breastfeeding mothers.
Decide the area or institution in which you want to work by examining your life and the groups to which you belong. A parent with an autistic child may become a peer counselor to other parents who have just received this diagnosis for their child. A business owner might counsel other new or potential business owners on starting a venture. Once you focus on an area or topic, pursue peer counseling opportunities by contacting related institutions and individuals.
Get the training required to begin work as a peer counselor. Most positions require initial training to ensure that you have knowledge in areas such as decision-making along with pertinent information such as appropriate agencies to refer individuals to during counseling. Training generally runs 10 to 40 hours, depending on the program, and is available from the mentoring programs themselves. Training mentors internally ensures that each mentor understands the details of the program you are working for, which vary from one to the next.
Understand confidentiality and ethical requirements of your position. Peer counselors provide a listening ear and help to make decisions in a professional, non-judgmental manner. This means providing services within appropriate ethical guidelines. Confidentiality presents a serious issue for both the peer counselor and the client, who must be able to completely trust the counselor.
Commit a certain number of hours per week to your new position as required by the program. Requirements range from as little as an hour a week to several hours two or more times a week. Some programs allow peer counselors to spend additional time working if you desire.
Seek continuing education through workshops, seminars or online training modules as provided by the institution with which you work. Continued educational opportunities ensure that peer counselors remain well-informed on policies and practices. Skills development encourages peer counselors to continue your efforts and increases your effectiveness at doing so.
If you would like to work as a peer counselor with a certain group of individuals but cannot locate an opportunity, talk to someone about starting such a program. School, work and community groups are all good places to start inquiring about setting up peer counseling services.
Peer counseling can be rewarding but stressful. Take care of your own needs by having someone to talk with about your experiences while in this position.