by Andy Fisher, Ph.D.
Peer-counselling is counselling by non-professional peers, who together form a supportive community. We live in a society which in many ways isolates us and subjects us to norms of behaviour which are detrimental to our well-being. By contrast, within a peer-counselling community, we are invited to take support from one another in exploring those aspects of ourselves we normally keep hidden from the world, as well as from ourselves. We learn to contact our underlying experience and to express our emotions in a safe and caring environment. We gradually heal from the wounds that both our early experience and our society have left upon us. And as we do all this, we develop a level of trust, intimacy, and sense of connectedness with others that is, unfortunately, rare in today’s world. Peer-counselling also helps us to realize that there is always beauty and goodness in the world, if we can simply learn to be more present with it.
We all need to heal. Peer-counselling is a way in which people of different race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, and so on, can work together as equals toward the liberation of all. We also live in a time that presents many challenges; the future in many ways looks dubious. Here, too, peer-counselling helps us to find the courage, clarity, hope, humour, and personal power to creatively face the crisis of modern times. This makes peer-counselling an especially important tool for social and environmental activists, who often must deal with such personal issues as burnout, despair, and chronic anger or grief.
Finally, peer-counselling offers many advantages over professional counselling, psychotherapy, or psychiatric care. This is not to say that one should never seek professional counsel, but only that there is much that non-professionals can do for one another. Advantages of peer-counselling include freedom from heavy financial demand; an avoidance of the imbalance of power between counsellor and client; a more human and less “medical” approach; a larger community of support; and a broader consideration of the social causes of individual distress. Perhaps most importantly, peer-counselling allows us to realize that we are all healers. In earning to listen to and care for one another, we are recovering basic human capacities that should not be restricted to professionals. Moreover, as more and more people recover these basic capacities, and as they come to realize some of the oppressive ways in which our society is structured, then social change becomes more achievable.
Andy Fisher, Ph.D., Peer Counselling: An Introduction to the theory and practice, 1995.
This article appears with permission from the author. The Farm Line thanks Dr. Fisher for allowing us to share his knowledge and expertise with you.