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Peer Counseling offers unique, human take on mental health counseling for students

November 5, 2021

Driven by his observation of the high personal and academic standards to which Bowdoin students, faculty and staff are held, Chris Dehney ’24 seized the opportunity to bring Peer Counseling, a peer-based counseling service, to campus this semester.

While attending his all-boys high school, Dehney saw Peer Counseling as a unique space for students to support one another. As a current member of Peer Health, this space is exactly what he hopes to facilitate on campus by incorporating the model used at his high school into the College community.

“It’s about giving people the space that they don’t normally get on a day-to-day basis because of the busy world that we’re living in and classes,” Dehney said. “People don’t really get time to just talk and have someone listen.”

Peer Health hosts Peer Counseling weekly on Wednesdays from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. to give students the chance to talk to one another and be heard. Inside the Shannon Room, students begin the session introducing themselves to one another, along with sharing one good thing that happened to them that day or week.

“[The start of the session] is kind of like a grounding exercise,” Dehney said. “No matter how much things suck, if you can pick one thing, that’s good. That’ll always help.”

After introductions, students split into pairs and share with each other whatever they want. Students talk about anything they need to get off their chests—heavy course loads, exciting weekend plans or more serious events that might carry more weight—and their peers listen. The point is not to give advice, instead, it is to be in a room with other people who may or may not be strangers and listen—and be listened to.

“The goal of Peer Counseling is just to help people feel a little bit lighter,” Dehney said. “The idea is just to create a space where people can come and hopefully get a little bit off their chest and no matter how big that pile is, just get the little bit off.”

The program began last Wednesday with roughly 12 students in attendance. This past Monday, however, that number tripled. Students came away from the session grateful for the space they were given and eager to continue attending.

“Having an open space to talk about life at Bowdoin, how difficult it is, with someone who understands was extremely beneficial,” Noa Schumann ’22 said. “It left me feeling validated. It left me feeling like there were people who were going through the same struggles as I was, and it left me feeling like Bowdoin was pulling together like a real community.”

Even after sessions end for the night, members of Peer Health are available to continue conversations with students who need extra support. Modeled after Peer-to-Peers, a different Bowdoin program that connects first year students to a Peer Health member, Dehney hopes that this extension of Peer Counseling will help upperclass students feel that they have someone trained in campus resources and peer support who they can lean on. Peer Health members identify themselves at the beginning of each session and make themselves available to anyone who might be seeking further discussion.

“I think any student at Bowdoin could benefit from it, whether you’re seeing a therapist at Bowdoin outside of Bowdoin or not at all,” Schumann said. “Any student could benefit from talking to a peer about events that are going on in their life, whether there’s something bothering you, whether there’s something you want to talk through or whether there’s something you want advice on.”

Dehney explained that Peer Counseling is open to anyone and everyone. He feels that it is a rare opportunity for students to have a designated time and space for emotional release in a world obsessed with productivity and achievement.

“Just show up and hopefully you’ll leave feeling at least a little bit better,” Dehney said. “That’s kind of the best we can do sometimes.”


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