An Equitable Approach to Peer Counseling

As I have been pondering over the process of training and preparing for serving in support capacity as a peer counselor for the mental health field, I find an apprehensive factor coming to my attention that actually applies in many ways to much of the medical field today. I truly feel the necessity to address it now.

Expanding the concept of peer counseling may help bridge the divide between practitioner and patient. If we can meet those we are helping from a place of vulnerability and equality, we can facilitate healing.

As I publicly acknowledge my delicate nature and humanity, the healing relationship often is strengthened with those I interact with who are themselves experiencing illness and/or dis-ease of some nature.

Authenticity is often dismissed among health professionals and instead a vague and subtle sense of superiority replaces it. I feel I have been deeply effected by such experiences and seeing it in myself, as I now reach out to help facilitate healing in others, I also see it in some healing and self growth practitioner’s around me. I have experienced it as a patient, often actively labeled ‘other’ by the people I have seen professionally. Have we not also seen the attitude of a knowing superior versus the ignorant inferior surfacing in ourselves based on “training”? I suggest those in health circles who have taken up the mantle of helper become acutely conscious of this so that they might minimize the harm it can cause in relationship with others.

We are all, every one of us, in this wonderful and mystical game called life. Many of us are struggling in various ways to make rhyme or reason of it. Is there really such a difference between someone trained as a practitioner and a client in reference to being a fellow human being? If those trained to help were also trained to remember that their role as helper is motivated by the fact that they have much more in common with their patients/clients than not, then we will start to see a lessening of hierarchy. We all have incredible capacities and learn very particular things in our own idealistic ways. Most of it is “not” learned in school or training regardless of level of education.

Is it possible that identifying with a client might actually be a good thing? This is exactly why “peer counselors” are effective. I would like to make the illustration that as human beings we are, indeed, all peers. A peer is an equal within the broader definition. However let us keep this within a focussed content as to why it is we find ourselves here at a crossroads. In that process we all have tasted a measure of suffering to some degree. Isn’t that a unifying factor found in each and every one of us? The manner in which “that which is experienced” may play out is unique however is there not a commonality in the nature of suffering that make a lot of mental health professionals find quite uneasy? Does not the placing of all those unsightly distinctives on the client often classify them as an “other”? I say, let’s begin to dispel such projections of polarity that only serve to prolong separation.
We are all one, amidst and in spite of our perceived weaknesses, shortcomings, differences and strengths. None of us are broken and need fixing. We simply may request that a safe container be created from understanding that can bond us together with of a level of intimacy that honors, respects and enhances our humanity.

So why is the tendency to run from such intimacy at all costs seem to be often par for the course? Does this not serve to separate and deny our commonality within humanity? Does this not indicate perhaps a fear of facing one’s own darkness? How may we help others face and integrate their darkness if we willing to continue to hide from our own? It may not always feel appropriate to share one’s darkness and in some cases it may not serve to be facilitating given a present set of circumstances with some showing up as “clients”. However it may ‘be” appropriate to share and quite healing mutually if from such a place adequate boundaries have been set and are in place. I believe that all our psyches contain a full spectrum of the content of the collective psyche within it…some people experience more or less of this however it is an underlying unifying factor. Why not consider opening individually that which acknowledges a deep familiarity that truly exists among the commonality of our collective consciousness that respects all of its parts?

Many health professionals are not yet realizing this and don’t care to venture into the depth of the human psyche and tend to favor a status quo of remaining in fear or ignorance which only serves to add layer upon layer to the confusion of what is often regarded as “gray area”. Let’s speak plainly and with clarity and not merely gloss over what we care not to take time and initiative to act upon.

The last thing one in illness needs to experience is a projection of fear or separateness from one whom they have approached in confidence and trust as being a “facilitator of healing”. The “patient” is thus often retained in distress and thus remains entrenched in illness and dis-ease.

Let’s consider here a vital element that exists within the nature of our humanity; we are on one level playing field in actuality. Belief systems tend to dictate otherwise. Is there not often superimposed over the picture a projection of “us” and ‘them” that stems from “systems” that are not serving humanity as a whole?
I do wish to acknowledge that there are professional practitioners and patients alike that I am aware of that are realizing this however. I know from my own experience that it is often very difficult for those distressed by what they are confronted with through a disease or illness, to find resources that are actually including a facilitation of a depth of healing. So the people who need it the most often fail to connect with the healing that may assist them on the path to restored wholeness.

It is indeed time for a greater measure of some in-depth compassion and understanding to further enlighten the consciousness of humanity to move beyond a narrow dualistic mindset that needs to be dissolved.

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