Peer Support for Universities

The Peer Support Programme has been developed in response to the acknowledged need for students to have a choice of welfare services within their university. The programme provides safe and informed low-level support to students from their peers, who may be more accessible than existing service providers due to cultural, language, age or academic similarities.

The Programme

This programme enables selected students to act as ambassadors of their university. They will gain the skills required to be effective and responsible in supporting their peers throughout their time at university. It is taught by Peer Support Facilitator Tina Usherwood who originally initiated the peer support programme at the University of Liverpool in 2009, and which she has run annually since then.

Peer Supporters will complete a 30-hour training. The skills learned through the training include being a good listener, helping others to feel more comfortable with social, academic and personal relationships, helping others to make decisions without giving advice, and managing and communicating about sensitive issues. An emphasis is placed on the listener learning their own limits within the listening situation, and when best to refer on the person to whom they are giving support.

Post training supervision will be an integral part of the programme and ensures that supporters are not acting (or being asked to act) as counsellors. Supervision will provide a space for peer supporters to reflect on their practice and develop and enhance their skills as well as providing an opportunity for the work to be monitored. Reflective Practice is offered online fortnightly and all Peer Supporters must attend at least once a month to remain active. These meetings provide regular support and continuing personal development.

Comments from Peer Supporters regarding the skills learnt through the Peer Support training programme facilitated by Tina Usherwood at the University of Liverpool

“I have learnt how to listen effectively without giving advice, just allowing that person a space to speak to someone confidentially”.

“I feel that becoming a peer supporter had helped me to look objectively at situations, give realistic and constructive suggestions and empathise with other people”.

 “I have learnt the use of feeding back information to clarify what I have heard, the importance of not giving personal opinions but remaining objective, the use of open and closed questions in order to gather more information and the understanding that everyone finds different things challenging. Most importantly though to give a response of reassurance and [be] non-judgemental.”

“I learned the value of reflective communication, listening to people when they talk and asking open questions to learn more information. I learned to read body language, how to encourage someone to talk more and when to not say anything and let someone speak. I also learnt some valuable conflict resolution skills”.

Comments from Peer Supporters regarding the how their training prepared them for the role

“I feel that the training has prepared me well for dealing with most situations, as I am no longer daunted by somebody approaching me with a problem too large or to which I cannot relate. I feel that I am able to actively listen and allow the other person to explore their feelings and views on their problem without giving them advice, and to show and feel empathy. I have found that this technique has been appropriate for every situation which has been presented to me so far”.

“The training was fantastic and definitely set me up well as a Peer Supporter. The best thing about Peer Support though is that through reflective practice you have informal ‘training’ every couple of weeks, I was continually learning more about how to support people and myself”.