Gettysburg College Introduces PEEPS: A New Peer Counseling Program

Gettysburg College Counseling Services has addressed the need for additional support and student resources on campus by creating the “Peers Educating and Supporting Peers to Succeed” (PEEPS) program. The program was spearheaded by Olivia Coyle, MS, NCC, counselor and suicide prevention coordinator for the campus Counseling Services, and Daisy Chebbet, staff psychologist for Counseling Services.

When asked about the inspiration behind the program, Coyle and Chebbet explained “we recognize that some students may not always want long-term counseling and may be better suited for a problem solving session – that’s where our PEEPS come in. We also felt that some students may feel more comfortable meeting with other students.”

The program is based on the idea that peers may best understand the experience of fellow students. PEEPS volunteers support other students by sharing their own experiences and difficulties, including homesickness, time management, stress management, relationship problems. The volunteers also provide Counseling Services with insight into the type of support that students need.

Fall 2020 PEEPS: Clockwise from Top: Rachel Main, Rock Swarz, Becca McKenna, and Samantha Cotter

The four inaugural PEEPS, Rachel Main, Becca McKenna, Rock Swartz, and Samantha Cotter, are students from various backgrounds, fields of study, and class years. In undertaking their new role, the PEEPS have gained important skills from participating in the program as well. When asked about the most rewarding part of becoming a PEEP this year, McKenna said “I feel lucky to have this opportunity to work with my fellow students. Whether in big or small ways, it feels good to know that I am helping and making a difference in a peer’s life.”

Counseling Services has developed an extensive interactive training program to prepare PEEP volunteers. Coyle and Chebbet said that although the program was held online this year “we were able to still make it interactive and a valuable training to prepare students for this role. This is an on-going process, as PEEPS receive weekly supervision from counselors in the department to continue their growth and development as peer supporters.”

“I feel lucky to have this opportunity to work with my fellow students. Whether in big or small ways, it feels good to know that I am helping and making a difference in a peer’s life.” PEEP Volunteer Becca McKenna.

“I felt prepared going into the program due to outside experiences, but when we first started the training I realized how much I still had to learn. Since taking the training and working with the counselors in the department I felt confident in my ability to support students,” said Cotter.

The training program was adopted from a similar model used at Hartwick College in Oneonta, NY, and the training manual included helping skills, self-care, spectrum disorders, stress, bullying, anxiety, grief, depression, diversity and inclusion, sexual orientation, substance use and abuse, relationships, anger management, domestic violence, sexual assault and trauma, sexual health, eating disorders, self-injury, and suicide and crisis intervention.

Counseling Services has made the process of reaching out to the PEEPS simple for Gettysburg College students. To schedule an appointment with a PEEP, a student can call Counseling Services and request a meeting. Information and access to the PEEPS has been extended through their Instagram account, gburgpeeps. This social media account, with over 460 followers, is playing a vital role in sharing information with students.

Coyle and Chebbet hope the account will continue to grow and reach more students. “Our goal in utilizing social media was to build a connection and create engagement with students. We all know this is a challenging time that has made it difficult to connect with others. We wanted to have an outlet to connect with all students, on and off campus, to build relationships, provide support, and provide tips and resources that would be helpful for students.”

The Instagram account provides information to students about the program and also posts information and tips about topics, such as, “Zoom fatigue,” self-care practices, post-election stress, cyberbullying, and more.

Through all of these efforts, the Gettysburg College PEEPS have become a resource and source of support to their peers, but they have also learned a lot about their own lives and interactions.

 “The active listening skills were most impactful. It has helped me become a better listener with my friends. Being a PEEP has also given me a sense of responsibility that I have been able to apply to my everyday life. In a time when listening skills and self-care practices are especially vital for well-being, Gettysburg College Counseling Services has created a network of support and mental health education within the student community,” said Shwarz.

Main explained the importance of having conversations about mental health on campus: “This role has humbled me and pushed me to use my support, and I have learned that it is okay to be kind to myself. I have to take care of myself in a role that I support others to take care of themselves.”

After a successful fall debut with substantial use, Counseling Services hopes the PEEP program will continue to grow and reach more students in future semesters. The PEEPS have also created outreach events, while developing ties to other campus organizations. Coyle and Chebbet describe the hard work and determination of the PEEPS: “We have a wonderful group of PEEPS that have gone above and beyond in supporting student’s well-being. Just meeting with them you will feel their passion to help others, especially Gettysburg College students.”

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