Students supporting students | University of Oxford
Student support
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Students supporting students

One of the most valuable resources that students have during their time at University is each other. Providing support is not always easy, here are some thoughts which may help.

Helping each other

Students are likely to look to each other first for help in thinking through issues and for emotional support, but there are times when this can leave friends feeling overwhelmed, out of their depth and unsure how best to help.

If you are finding it difficult to support someone, we have six simple suggestions:

1. Be realistic about what you can offer.

2. Remember your responsibility to look after yourself. Don’t feel you have to prove what a good friend you are by always putting your friend’s needs ahead of your own.

3. Help build a support network. It is not a good idea for you to be your friend’s sole or main source of support. The burden could be too great for you, and you could also lose objectivity. It is important they have others to turn to and that you have someone to confer with when needed.

4. Encourage your friend to seek professional help. It may help to explore what is getting in the way of them seeking help. For example:

  • if your friend sees going to a doctor or counsellor as a sign of weakness, encourage them to see that it represents taking responsibility for their own situation;
  • if they worry that getting counselling makes them ‘abnormal’, try to normalise it for them. If you or somebody else you know has received counselling yourself, it might help to let them know this;
  • if they don’t think it will be helpful, encourage them to keep an open mind:  they won’t lose anything by going for one session and they might discover that counselling has more to offer them than they had previously imagined;
  • if they are anxious or scared about getting help, you could offer to stay with them while they phone their doctor or the Counselling Service. They may also appreciate the offer to walk them to their appointment.

5. Get some help for yourself. When you are in a difficult situation and unsure how to manage it, having someone to think with can make all the difference.

6. Most colleges have a panel of peer supporters who are trained by the Student Counselling Service. Peer Supporters have received training to enable them to listen effectively, communicate sensitively, maintain confidentiality, respect boundaries and recognise when and how to encourage referral to professional support services when necessary. Mainly they just offer a listening ear and a friendly face when you need it.