Sometimes, the best therapy is a friend.
Starting this spring, the Resilience Peer Network will provide support to students receiving peer-to-peer psychological treatment, thereby reducing Counseling and Psychological Services’ workload.
The Resilience Peer Network, which will be providing counseling and therapy to students, was set up by Marvin Chen, the Undergraduate Students Association Council student wellness commissioner, and Elizabeth Gong-Guy, director of the UCLA Office of Campus and Student Resilience. This could be successful because students find it easier to relate to their peers and share their problems with them than talk to a professional psychologist who might seem intimidating.
Unfortunately, last fall CAPS reduced the number of annual appointments available to students through the UC Student Health Insurance Plan by 40 percent, from 10 visits to six. Following this change in policy, there was a massive uproar among the students who felt that this was an uncalled-for move by the UCLA staff.
Time is of the essence, as 70 percent of today’s mental illnesses remain untreated. According to a survey done by the American Psychological Association in 2013, more than 40 percent of college students suffer from anxiety and over a third suffer from depression and relationship problems.
This new balance between CAPS’ psychological treatment and peer counseling will help treat more students based on the severity of their problem and also save funds. As such, the Resilience Peer Network will be a good substitute to counsel students suffering from mild to moderate depression and similar cases.
The peer counselors will provide individual and group support to students already receiving internet-based empirically validated treatment. According to Gong-Guy, volunteers will undergo a demanding training schedule spanning nine weeks, which includes active listening, compassionate responding, mindfulness and cognitive behavioral techniques, as well as workshops in suicide prevention and mental health first aid.
There appears to be a lot of intensive training involved in this program. But this is not just a volunteer peer counseling program. The students undergoing counseling will be monitored by care managers, while the Resilience Peers will undergo supervision by UCLA psychologists. Accountability of the counselors is difficult to measure because it has no set standard, but when it comes to psychology, professional supervision is the best option to ensure counselors are always held accountable.
The demanding training schedule ensures that the Resilience Peers will carry out counseling effectively, however accountability of this treatment needs to be addressed since these students do not have the same experience as a professional psychologist.
The Resilience Peers can help to reduce the overall percentage of students with mental health problems, through counseling and therapy. However, it’s fair to have a few reservations about this.
The recruitment process was only for three weeks in December. There were 30 slots open and 56 people applied. The number of people who applied for this program does seem a little small compared to all the other student groups on campus. Gong-Guy said the students who have already been trained will continue to provide support and counseling, while more students will be recruited this summer. Since this is a demonstration project, there are not enough trainers to train too many Resilience Peers, said Gong-Guy. She hopes to expand the program over the next few years and have more student involvement.
Given the large percentage of students suffering from mental health issues, more students need to be enrolled in this program so that more support can be provided to the students who need it. While it may not be of size right now, there definitely seems to be a plan in place to grow the program. As such, this shouldn’t be considered much of an issue moving forward.
Given all this, the conclusion is apparent: The peer network will be a useful supplement for CAPS. In the end, it’s these kind of initiatives that will restore the balance necessary in mental health services.