How Did That Make You Feel?

Volunteer Support Network training in Sefrou, MoroccoAfter a long week-end of extensive sensitivity training in interpersonal relationships, I am now a Volunteer-run Support Network (VSN) peer counselor; a role very different but can often be confused with being a 'friend' to other Peace Corps Volunteers. Peace Corps/Morocco staff recognizes the need to fund and support VSN. Though I was not knighted by beloved Moroccan King Mohamed VI or presented with the Purple Heart, group hugging, hand-holding and late-night revelations of the Moroccan psyche were more than any Peace Corps Volunteer could ask for.

Sefrou, MoroccoDuring the training in the picturesque town of Sefrou that consisted mostly of role-plays and group discussions (instead of clinically-scrubbed lectures), we learned to internalize several techniques that any good peer counselor deploy should the Bat-phone be activated. These included:

ACTIVE LISTENING: Techniques include Paraphrasing, Clarifying, Perception Checking, Questioning, Silence, Assurance, Reassurance and Summarizing.
IDENTIFYING EMOTIONS: This is much more difficult than any of us thought at first. So much of this session is about talking to pin-point the emotion(s) felt.
TYPES OF RESPONSES: During this session, we discussed the various response mechanisms: Physical (heart palpitations, rashes/hives, shakiness, back pain, grinding teeth, biting fingernails, etc), Behavioral (i.e. yelling, stuttering/stammering, verbal mistakes, excessive cursing, substance abuse, poor hygiene, listlessness, etc.), Emotional (i.e. feeling overwhelmed, panic, hopelessness, apathy, frustration, etc.) and Mental (i.e. self doubt, difficulty concentrating, mental blocks, etc.).
CRISIS COUNSELING1: BASIC Functioning is Behavioral (what is the person doing?), Affective (what is the person feeling?), Somatic (how is the person functioning?), Interpersonal (how is the person relating to others?) & Cognitive (what is the person thinking?)
STRESS MANAGEMENT vs. COPING MECHANISM: We brainstormed stress management and coping mechanisms.
CLOSING: In closing a counseling session, it is important to leave an open door for the counselee to contact the counselor; follow-up is encouraged, but not always necessary. Never close a counseling session with the remarks, "Good luck and take care!" We all agreed this seems too cavalier and condescending, with an implied abandonment.

Waterfall in Sefrou, MoroccoHere are some inappropriate responses when counseling2:
The weather cleared up just long enough on the last day of training to allow us to take a walk around town, through the river-divided medina and up a hill over-looking the Sefrou valley.

Waterfall in Sefrou, Morocco Me at the waterfall in Sefrou, Morocco River runs through Sefrou, Morocco


ethereal box of randomness
social contract
walking up and joining a conversation is unusual in moroccan culture.
1. We spoke briefly about clinical depression, and were told it is best to contact a professional counselor through the Peace Corps Medical Office if we suspected the counselee was clinically depressed. My dream of writting prescriptions as a peer counselor went out the doors as I head those words.
2. For me, this is the most obvious difference between peer counseling and friends just talking.

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Blogger Ben O.

Very interesting. I never knew that.

Ben O.

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