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A Guide to Peer Counseling


While many Hamilton students end up taking leadership roles in any of the vast number of clubs, teams and organizations that the College has to offer during their four years, rarer is the chance to permanently shape the future of an up and coming administrative program. That, however, is precisely the opportunity that was given to Isabel Shaheen O’Malley ’18 this summer through an Emerson Summer Collaborative Research Award. Under her research advisors, Staff Psychologist Heather Cosgrove and Counseling Center Director David Walden, O’Malley helped to create the training manual for Hamilton’s new Peer Counseling Program, launching this year.

about Isabel Shaheen O’Malley

Majors: Psychology and Creative Writing

Hometown: Chevy Chase, Md.

High School: Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School

read more student research stories

“When David told me that the peer counseling program was just getting started this year,” she said, “I asked him if he might need some help with developing the training curriculum over the summer.” In order to help identify and adopt the best possible training practices, O’Malley had to approach the subject from numerous angles, from analyzing the impetus behind peer counseling on college campuses to identifying the program’s potential limitations, to researching the training curriculums at comparable institutions across the nation.

As a part of said research, she constructed a literature review overviewing journal articles, trainer handbooks, and national surveys of counseling centers, before interviewing peer counseling program advisors and students from a dozen colleges and universities to best ascertain which of their common practices might be profitably applied at Hamilton.

While O’Malley said that over one-third of colleges and universities across the country have peer-counseling programs in their counseling centers, she acknowledged that there are challenges that face such programs, both in terms of logistics and culture. “(One) goal will be getting peer counseling accepted as a legitimate service in the campus culture,” she said. “Usage may be slow at first. Why should a student spend an hour talking to another student they’ve never met if they could just talk to their friends?”

To that point, O’Malley believes that feedback from students who have found the program was helpful will be vital to getting a sizeable portion of the student body on-board. She claimed that one measure of the success of the program will be the number of students who participate in peer counseling without having previous experience with the counseling center.

“Seeing the service established as an integral part of Hamilton culture, like recent developments with first-year orientation, will be a great sign that we accomplished something this summer,” she said.

O’Malley’s research and hard work, along with that of the entire Counseling Center, seems to have paid off, as Hamilton’s Peer Counseling Program will incorporate some of the most successful aspects of programs from around the nation, such as the inclusion of multicultural counseling competency training, the use of satisfaction surveys and other tools to supply feedback to peer counselors, and the adoption of best-practices from the Stanford and Yale training models, among others.

Hamilton’s peer counselors will be available this fall for in-person visits Mondays-Thursdays from 4-10 p.m., Saturdays from 3-6 p.m., and overnight by phone from 10 p.m.- 7 a.m.

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