Q1. What is peer counseling?
A. Peer Counseling is counseling which is offered by someone who has either lived through the experience you are going through yourself or is also currently suffering from the same thing as you are.
Q2. In other words, if I am suffering from bipolar disorder can I be counseled by someone who is suffering from the same? Or has suffered from the same? Will they not jeopardize my prospects of getting well instead?
If someone is working in counseling they usually understand issues related to a particular experience. They have themselves lived through it and they do not necessarily colour their perception by their own experience. Their experiences are a part of their knowledge construction and in fact aid them in better understanding you, unlike someone who does not know what bipolar could be or how you would be feeling inside or the effects of medication on your system.
Peer counseling has distinct advantages over counseling by professionals in psychology, psychiatry, social work, nursing or other allied fields, who lack direct experience and have only a clinical perspective.
Q3. What are advantages of working with a peer counselor?
A. First of all, peer counseling is reported to have lower rates of relapse in psychosis. In other words, if one is counseled by a peer, the likelihood of them getting a relapse into a psychotic state is markedly reduced.
Secondly, peers do not stigmatize you- they do not look at you as a diagnostic label- you are not schizophrenic, bipolar or obsessive compulsive, socially anxious or nervous or bulimic. You are simply a person, the rest follows later.
Peers understand the suffering of mental illness and diagnosis better. If you think there is nobody in the world who can understand you, peers are someone who in fact CAN! There would be so much understanding that you may not even think you are talking to a ‘professional’.
Q4. In that case, is peer counseling a professional thing, with professional charges?
A. Yes peer counseling is just like another counseling service, but more deeply felt and experienced. People who work in peer counseling have gone through their own counseling thoroughly, understand their problems and gray areas well, work on themselves equally as much as they work with clients/peers.