STAR addresses peer counseling needs

November 10, 2017

Students Talking About Relationships (STAR) defines “relationship” in the broadest sense of the word. Whether a student needs to talk about their relationship with a friend, roommate, boss, professor or themselves, the STAR members are Brandeis sophomores, juniors and seniors who act as peer support for the Brandeis community.

The STAR center, located on the third floor of the SCC, is open Sunday through Friday from 1 to 7 p.m. for students to drop in and get support from the trained peer advocates.

“I know that some students can have difficulties reaching out to an adult. It can be a little intimidating, so for students who have trouble going to the BCC [Brandeis Counseling Center] and approaching a therapist or are unable to find one immediately, STAR can be a great resource,” STAR member Lauren Puglisi ’19 said.

STAR member Ceara Genovesi ’18 added that because of the stigma surrounding students seeking a therapist, they may feel more comfortable seeking out peer advice.

To apply to volunteer for STAR, students fill out an online application and do a 30 minute interview with another member. According to their website, members undergo a rigorous 35-hour training from professionals at the beginning of the semester to be trained in topics including but not limited to: general counseling skills, campus resources and procedures, domestic and dating violence, rape crisis and sexual assault, pregnancy options and STD/STIs, alcohol and drugs, eating disorders and body image, LGBT topics, religion, mental health, suicide and self-harm. Each member holds office hours in the center for two hours a week.

“I want to go into clinical psychology and this is the most direct experience I’ll have in college related to what I want to do,” Puglisi said. “I really enjoy helping people and talking to them.”

STAR is a confidential resource, meaning that they will only report what is discussed in conversations with students if the student expresses any intents to harm themselves or others. Otherwise, members will not share the information of anyone who enters the center.

“To maintain anonymity and confidentiality, we never take down names or force anyone to share their names and we do not take anything discussed between counselors and counselees outside of the room unless they are in danger of harming themselves or others,” STAR Co-Coordinator Rachel Portnoy ’18 said. “We can discuss very general topics with the other counselors in order to offer support to one another, but we never discuss specifics.”

“STAR is such a wonderful resource, and it’s unfortunate that it’s so underutilized,” Puglisi said. “I know the BCC is very overbooked and that’s been very difficult for students, so I hope to get the word out about STAR and hopefully provide support to people on campus who are otherwise missing it.”

Though STAR members cannot take the place of a trained counselor or therapist, the group hopes that they can be a resource for students who are struggling to get treatment. Puglisi talked of students having to wait weeks for appointments at the BCC.

“When there’s something going on that’s really distressing, two weeks is a very critical time,” noted Puglisi. “It’s sad to see that mental health on this campus isn’t doing so well because of that.” Puglisi added that the BCC needs to be hiring more counselors to help prevent extended wait times.

This year, wait times for students seeking intake appointments at the BCC have been up to four weeks, according to Joy von Steiger, the director of the BCC. The center has so far hired four new counselors with plans to hire a fifth soon, though the BCC has not yet publicized this information.

Genovesi said that peer support is helpful for students because they know that the person listening to them has gone through similar experiences.

“With talking to peers specifically, they can be more understanding,” Genovesi said. “Sometimes professionals are older and they don’t quite remember what it was like to be in college. The climate, from politics to media, is so different now than it was when older adults were in college.”

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