ERIC Identifier: ED266341
Publication Date: 1985-00-00
Author: Frenza, Mary
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.
Peer Counseling. Highlights: An ERIC/CAPS Fact Sheet.
Peer counselors fall under the general rubric of paraprofessionals -- those
without extended professional training who are selected from the group to be
served, trained, and given ongoing supervision to perform some key function
generally performed by a professional (Mamarchev, 1981). Frequently cited
benefits from the use of peer counselors include: expanded services and reduced
costs because professionals are freed for other duties; traditional counseling
services enhanced by the unique abilities and skills of peer paraprofessionals;
the opportunity to gain special insight into the needs and problems of the group
being served; and a bridge for the gap between professionals and the diverse
groups they serve. Peer counselors benefit from the specialized human relations
training and the opportunity to help others, which contribute to their own
personal growth and development.
HISTORY AND RESEARCH
Although the initial policies of professional counseling associations toward
the use of paraprofessionals emphasized clerical activities as their appropriate
domain, more recent statements stress the value of peer facilitators'
interpersonal skills and caution that they should not be used as clerical
assistants (ASCA, 1984; Brown, 1974).
This increased acceptance of peer counselors in direct helping relationships
is based on the results of research on paraprofessional effectiveness. Even
though much of this research has been criticized for flaws of methodology and
design, it nevertheless provides ample evidence that nonprofessionals with
limited training (20-40 hours) can be as effective as professionals, in some
areas, in bringing about positive client change (Hoffman Warner, 1976; Scott and
In attempting to account for the effectiveness reported for peer counselors,
researchers have examined differences in selection and training for
paraprofessionals and professionals. While procedures for selecting peer
counselors aim at identifying individals who demonstrate empathy, high
self-confidence, and the ability to accept values different from their own,
selection in professional counselor training programs focuses on intellectual
abilities which may not correlate with effective interpersonal skills. Peer
counselor programs provide training in specific skills related to direct helping
relationships. Professional training programs are often a mixture of science,
art, research, and practice with limited time spent on interpersonal and
facilitative skills (Brown, 1974).
PEER COUNSELOR PROGRAMS
A successful peer counselor program is built on a solid foundation which
--Systematic needs assessment -- to determine whether peer counseling is the
most appropriate or highest priority intervention.
--Established support -- from all those affected by the program.
--Specific rather than global program goals -- with written descriptions
clearly defining roles, functions, and levels of responsibility.
Once the program's foundations have been laid, important operating components
-- selection, training and supervision, and evaluation -- must be implemented.
A preliminary step to the selection process is recruiting candidates from the
population to be served. Whatever method is chosen to advertise for recruits,
information on basic qualifications should emphasize: commitment to helping
others and the ability to interact with a variety of people; willingness to
accept standards of ethical conduct such as confidentiality of information; and
willingness and ability to work within the philosophy and goals of the program
(Delworth and Brown, 1977). Besides these basic qualifications, effective peer
counselors have been found to possess the facilitative skills of empathy,
genuineness, and respect for others.
A second approach to selection directly assesses trainees' potential to
benefit from training. The method involves the use of a brief training analog
with pre- and post-testing of applicants' interpersonal skill levels, based on
the idea that those who benefit from a small amount of training will more likely
benefit from the whole (Delworth and Moore, l974). The analog can be a small
part of the actual training sequence.
A third approach, frequently used at the secondary school level, is
self-selection, in which virtually everyone who applies to the program is
accepted. In this case, a pre-training interview with a counselor to weed out
those who are emotionally unstable, or a rigorous training process to discourage
the uncommitted are the only screening devices.
The content of peer counselor training usually covers three areas. the first
is information about the policies, procedures, and organization of the program;
ethical and legal considerations such as confidentiality; ways to establish a
support network and sources of support; and the limitations of the peer
counselor role, including signs which indicate professional help is needed, and
the procedures for referral. The second content area is job- specific
information, which relates to particular program objectives, e.g., to provide
academic advising, tutoring, career guidance, or group counseling. The third
area is interpersonal skills training.
The most effective process for training peer counselors includes both
didactic and experiential techniques in a basic four-step sequence: (1)
identifying and defining the skill in behavioral terms -- breaking it down into
small steps; (2) demonstrating or modeling both effective and ineffective
examples of the skill; (3) practicing the skill with supervision and feedback
until minimum competence is achieved; and (4) practicing the skill with
supervision in real counseling situations.
Training the trainers can also be accomplished within the peer counseling
program, using a pyramid approach in which more advanced peer counselors, under
professional supervision, act as trainers. This method has the advantage of
providing the more experienced with new skills and new trainees with models of
effective peer helping. Other ways of ensuring effective trainers include
professional development workshops for counselors, and prepackaged training
curricula with accompanying trainers' manuals (Danish and Brock, 1974).
The goals of evaluating peer counseling programs are: (1) to provide
performance feedback to professionals and peers; (2) to determine if training
goals are being met; (3) to provide data for program improvement; and (4) to
increase credibility and ensure the program's continued support. The evaluation
process should be built into the initial program design and measure the effects
of the program on peer counselors, on the population being served, and on the
climate of the school or agency. Evaluation methods need not involve
sophisticated research methodology. Following are suggestions for some easily
--Pre-post method -- measures changes that occur during the program, e.g.,
changes in peer counselor self-concept or communication skills.
--Control group method -- compares differences between program participants
and nonparticipants, e.g., trained peer counselors' helping skills compared to a
--Self-report method -- uses checklists, rating scales, or questionnaires to
determine how well a program is meeting its goals; e.g., peer helpees rate their
satisfaction with the program (Dougherty and Taylor, 1983).
The effects of the program on school or agency climate can often be measured
using readily available data, such as the number of clients seen or the number
of program participants, or through informal interviews with teachers, parents
or administrators. The results of evaluations should be communicated to all
those involved in and affected by the program.
Professional responsibility is a salient issue in using paraprofessionals as
peer counselors, especially in elementary and secondary schools where such
programs involve minors. In addressing this issue, McManus (1982) described a
high school program using secondary students to provide school psychological
services, and detailed elements of the program which were designed to act as
--Thorough education of all concerned persons before implementation and
throughout the course of the program.
--Verbal and written permissions from parents of both peer counselors and
their potential clients.
--Gradual implementation of program elements, with data collection on
functional or neutral areas followed by the introduction of sensitive areas.
--Training emphasizing paraprofessional limitations and guidelines for
referring to professionals.
--Ongoing professional supervision.
The basic components of successful peer counseling programs, as described
earlier, have developed in large part through the effort to guarantee ongoing
professional responsibility. Professional counselors' major responsibilities for
peer counseling programs were identified in the early 1970s (Allen, 1972). While
not all of them are relevant to every program, they remain the core areas:
--Overall program planning -- to design, implement and evaluate the peer
--Role definition -- to specify peer counselors' functions, expectations and
--Training and supervision -- to devise a peer counselor selection plan,
provide preservice and inservice training, and supervise on a continual basis.
--Legal liability -- to establish clear levels of authority between
professionals and paraprofessionals and explicit guidelines for referral to
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Allen, D. A. PEER COUNSELING AND PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY. Paper presented
at the annual meeting of the American College Health Association, Atlanta,
Georgia, April, 1972. ED 066 679.
American School Counselor Association. POSITION STATEMENT: PEER FACILITATING.
Alexandria, VA: American School Counselor Association, 1984.
Brown, W. F. "Effectiveness of Paraprofessionals: The Evidence." PERSONNEL
AND GUIDANCE JOURNAL 53(4) (1974):257-263.
Danish, S. J., and G.W. Brock "The Current Status of Paraprofessional
Training." PERSONNEL AND GUIDANCE JOURNAL 53(4) (1974):299-303.
Delworth, U. and W. F. Brown. "The Paraprofessional as a Member of the
College Guidance Team." In PARAPROFESSIONALS IN EDUCATION TODAY, A. Gortner,
V.C. Jackson, and F. Riessman, eds. New York: Human Sciences Press, 1977.
Delworth, U., and M. Moore. "Helper Plus Trainer: A Two-Phase Program for the
Counselor." PERSONNEL AND GUIDANCE JOURNAL 52(6) (1974):428-433.
Dougherty, A. M., and B. L. B. Taylor. "Evaluation of Peer Helper Programs."
In ELEMENTARY SCHOOL GUIDANCE AND COUNSELING, R. P. Bowman (ed.) (Special issue)
Hoffman, A. M., and R. W. Warner. "Paraprofessional Effectiveness." PERSONNEL
AND GUIDANCE JOURNAL 54(10) (1976):494-497.
Mamarchev, H. L. PEER COUNSELING. SEARCHLIGHT PLUS: RELEVANT RESOURCES IN
HIGH INTEREST AREAS. No. 52+. Ann Arbor, MI: ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling
and Personnel Services, 1981. ED 211 904.
McManus, J. L. "Comprehensive Psychological Services at the Secondary Level
Utilizing Student Paraprofessionals." JOURNAL OF SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGY 20(4)
Scott, S. H., and R. W. Warner. "Research in Counseling." PERSONNEL AND
GUIDANCE JOURNAL 53(3) (1974):228-231.