Peer Support | University of Oxford
Peer Support
Group of graduate students sitting on the steps to the entrance of the Rothermere American Institute, Oxford, UK
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Peer Support

Student Peer Supporters are available in colleges and departments to talk with you informally about anything that is concerning you. All Peer Supporters have been carefully selected and trained to take up this role and receive ongoing support and supervision from the University Counselling Service.

Peer support

The Peer Support Programme was developed in recognition of the essential role students play in supporting and encouraging one another on a day-to-day basis throughout their time at university. 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 out of their depth, unsure how best to help but anxious about seeking advice for fear of betraying trust.

The Programme seeks to better equip students for this role, enabling them to feel more confident in supporting their peers and more aware of the professional support networks available to them. Since its launch it has been embraced by an Oxford University review as an integral part of its welfare provision.

Who are peer supporters?

Peer supporters are undergraduate and graduate students who have formally applied for the role and have been selected by the Peer Support Panel in their college or department in consultation with a professional Peer Support trainer and the college’s Senior Common Room (SCR). They 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. Peer supporters attend ongoing fortnightly supervision through the University Counselling Service to consolidate their training, develop skills and ensure that they are not over-committed. All peer supporters abide by a Code of Practice.

How can peer support help?

Peer support offers an easily accessible and relatively informal opportunity to talk through issues which may be concerning you. Often it can help simply to get things off your chest or to know that someone is genuinely willing to listen and take time to understand what’s on your mind. Sometimes just talking things through is enough; sometimes it may lead you to seek more professional help. It is important to emphasise that peer supporters are not counsellors and, where appropriate, they may encourage you to seek more formal support through college welfare, your GP or the University Counselling Service.

There are currently 30 colleges involved in the Peer Support Programme, together with the Said Business School and Medical School. Each college has a panel of between six and 12 trained Peer Supporters, with new students trained each year to take the place of those who leave. There are approximately 350 active Peer Supporters within the University at any one time. Information about the peer support at your college can be found on your college or JCR website.

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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.

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.

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text

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.

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