Call-In Walk-In provides peer counseling services for students

February 24, 2016 by Emilia Maluf, Executive Editor

During First Days, all throughout our first years and beyond, we are told time and again of the many resources that are available to us for whatever problems we might encounter during our time here at the College.

One such resource is Psychological Counseling Services (Psych Services), a branch of the Health Center. Through Psych Services, students at the College can schedule appointments to meet with a trained therapist and participate in a counseling session to discuss mental health issues.

While Psych Services is an undoubtedly valuable resource, many students may not feel comfortable making an appointment with a therapist to discuss a seemingly insignificant issue.

This is where Call-In Walk-In (CIWI) comes in. CIWI, a program instituted by Peer Health, refers to the hours during the week that the Peer Health office is open for students.Sundays through Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., students are free to stop by the office to speak confidentially with a trained member of Peer Health about whatever it is that they choose to discuss.

Students can also telephone the office during these hours if for any reason they choose not to come in person for a meeting with a peer counselor. The students who man CIWI shifts in the Peer Health office have all undergone a mandatory, intensive period of training prior to beginning working shifts. Health Educator Laini Sporbert oversees training sessions, each of which focuses on a different topic related to health.

Although the students who work in CIWI are by all means well-equipped to support their peers, Peer Health members who man CIWI shifts do not often find themselves holding sessions with students, in person or over the phone.

May Congdon ’17, one of the co-presidents of Peer Health, approximates that “at least 50 per-cent of the Williams student body knows what Peer Health is, less know where it is and even less have used [our] services.”

Johanna Wassermann ’18, Peer Health’s other co-president, estimates that most CIWI officers have only had “one or two people this year” come in to take advantage of the peer counseling aspect of the CIWI office.

“We never really get any calls,” Congdon said of the lack of popularity of the office’s call-in feature. As Wassermann puts it, Peer Health is “known for … selling condoms during CIWI peer coun-seling hours,” although CIWI officers are trained to handle so much more.

Congdon agrees. “I would say a pretty sizable percentage of people have, in their time at Williams, utilized Peer Health to buy condoms – that’s our most common service,” she said. “Unfortunately, [the peer counseling aspect of CIWI] is not always used as much as we would hope it would be,” Wassermann said, “but it is [meant to be] a first resource for when things do get difficult, in the … mental health or friends department. Since it’s very intimidating, I think, for a lot of students to go to Psych Services and have somebody to talk to there, talking to a peer initially can be very helpful and offer a fresh perspective.”

“We’re the first step that can help direct people to what they need, and also just provide kind of a sounding board for people who are going through a tough time and need someone to talk to in that moment,” Congdon said.

So why is it that more students do not take advantage of these many  widespread and useful services that CIWI makes accesible at the College?

“I think a lot of people have trouble [with] where is the Peer Health office,” Congdon said. “It’s really kind of tucked away in upstairs Paresky. We’re going to try to put up some posters to help direct people. I think calling [in] could be a cool way to get around that, too.”

Wassermann also identified the student body’s lack of awareness of the specifics of CIWI as a contributing factor to the unforunate lack of use that the service gets at the College.

“There’s a [level of] confidentiality that I think people don’t think there is,” Wassermann said. “Unless there’s perceived danger or a real issue, … we’re not going to call you out. I wonder if sometimes that’s what people worry about.”

According to Congdon, the goal of Peer Health, which was initially founded as a women’s sexual health and empowerment group, is to work to create a healthier and happier student body.

“CIWI is … the medium through which [this goal] happens,” Congdon said.

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