ADOLESCENT PEER COUNSELLING Adolescent peer counselling as a social support strategy to assist...

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  • ADOLESCENT PEER COUNSELLING

    Kathryn Geldard

    Thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the Degree of

    Doctor of Philosophy. July 2005

    School of Learning and Professional Studies Faculty of Education

    Queensland University of Technology

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    KEYWORDS

    Adolescents, Communication, Conversation, Coping, Coping resources, Coping

    strategies, Counselling microskills, Counsellor training, Developmental stage

    differences, Emotional competence, Help seeking, Helping conversations,

    Intervention research, Peer counselling, Peer counsellor training, Prosocial

    behaviour, Resilience, Role attribution, School climate, Self-concept, Skill

    implementation, Social support, Status differences, Stress.

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    ABSTRACT

    Adolescent peer counselling as a social support strategy to assist adolescents

    to cope with stress in their peer group provides the focus for the present thesis. The

    prosocial behaviour of providing emotional and psychological support through the use

    of helping conversations by young people is examined. Current programs for training

    adolescent peer counsellors have failed to discover what skills adolescents bring to the

    helping conversation. They ignore, actively discourage, and censor, some typical

    adolescent conversational helping behaviours and idiosyncratic communication

    processes. Current programs for training adolescent peer counsellors rely on teaching

    microcounselling skills from adult counselling models. When using this approach, the

    adolescent peer helper training literature reports skill implementation, role attribution

    and status differences as being problematic for trained adolescent peer counsellors

    (Carr, 1984; de Rosenroll, 1988; Morey & Miller, 1993). For example Carr (1984)

    recognised that once core counselling skills have been reasonably mastered that young

    people “may feel awkward, mechanical or phoney” (p. 11) when trying to implement

    the new skills. Problematic issues with regard to role attribution and status differences

    appear to relate to the term ‘peer counsellor’ and its professional expectations,

    including training and duties (Anderson, 1976; Jacobs, Masson & Vass, 1976;

    Myrick, 1976). A particular concern of Peavy (1977) was that for too many people

    counselling was an acceptable label for advice giving and that the role of counsellor

    could imply professional status. De Rosenroll (1988) cautioned against creating

    miniature mirror images of counselling and therapeutic professionals in young people.

    However, he described a process whereby status difference is implied when a group

    of adolescent peer counsellors is trained and invited to participate in activities that

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    require appropriate ethical guidelines including competencies, training, confidentiality

    and supervision. While Carr and Saunders (1981) suggest, “student resentment of the

    peer counsellor is not a problem” they go on to say, “this is not to say that the problem

    does not exist” (p. 21). The authors suggest that as a concern the problem can be

    minimised by making sure the peer counsellors are not ‘forced’ on the student body

    and by providing opportunities for peer counsellors to develop ways of managing

    resentment. De Rosenroll (1988) acknowledges that the adolescent peer counsellor

    relationship may fall within a paraprofessional framework in that a difference in status

    may be inferred from the differing life experiences of the peer counsellor when

    compared with their student peers.

    The current project aimed to discover whether the issues of skill

    implementation, role attribution and status differences could be addressed so that

    adolescent peer counselling, a valuable social support resource, could be made more

    attractive to, and useful for adolescents.

    The researcher’s goal was to discover what young people typically do when

    they help each other conversationally, what they want to learn that would enhance

    their conversational helping behaviour, and how they experience and respond to their

    role as peer counsellor, and then to use the information obtained in the development

    of an adolescent-friendly peer counsellor training program. By doing this, the

    expectation was that the problematic issues cited in the literature could be addressed.

    Guided by an ethnographic framework the project also examined the influence of an

    adolescent-friendly peer counsellor training program on the non-peer counsellor

    students in the wider adolescent community of the high school.

    Three sequential studies were undertaken. In Study 1, the typical adolescent

    conversational and communications skills that young people use when helping each

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    other were identified. In addition, those microcounselling skills that young people

    found useful and compatible with their typical communication processes were

    identified. In Study 2, an intervention research process was used to develop, deliver,

    and evaluate an adolescent-friendly peer counsellor training program which combined

    typical adolescent helping behaviours with preferred counselling microskills selected

    by participants in Study 1. The intervention research paradigm was selected as the

    most appropriate methodology for this study because it is designed to provide an

    integrated perspective for understanding, developing, and examining the feasibility

    and effectiveness of innovative human services interventions (Bailey-Dempsey &

    Reid, 1996; Rothman & Thomas, 1994). Intervention research is typically conducted

    in a field setting in which researchers and practitioners work together to design and

    assess interventions. When applying intervention research methodology researchers

    and practitioners begin by selecting the problem they want to remedy, reviewing the

    literature, identifying criteria for appropriate and effective intervention, integrating the

    information into plans for the intervention and then testing the intervention to reveal

    the intervention’s strengths and flaws. Researchers then suggest modifications to

    make the intervention more effective, and satisfying for participants. In the final stage

    of intervention research, researchers disseminate information about the intervention

    and make available manuals and other training materials developed along the way

    (Comer, Meier, & Galinsky, 2004). In Study 2 an adolescent-friendly peer counsellor

    training manual was developed. Study 3 evaluated the impact of the peer counsellor

    training longitudinally on the wider school community. In particular, the project was

    interested in whether exposure to trained peer counsellors influenced students who

    were not peer counsellors with regard to their perceptions of self-concept, the degree

    of use of specific coping strategies and on their perceptions of the school climate.

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    Study three included the development of A School Climate Survey which focused on

    the psychosocial aspects of school climate from the student’s perspective. Two factors

    which were significantly correlated (p

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    late adolescent peer counsellors with regard to acquiring and mastering counselling

    skills, and their response to role attribution and status difference issues among their

    peers following counsellor training. As a result of the substantive findings the current

    project makes a significant contribution to social support theory and prosocial theory

    and to the adolescent peer counselling literature. It extends the range of prosocial

    behaviours addressed in published research by specifically examining the

    conversational helping behaviour of adolescents from a relational perspective. The

    current project provides new information that contributes to knowledge of social

    support in the form of conversational behaviour among adolescents identifying the

    interactive, collaborative, reciprocal and idiosyncratic nature of helping conversations

    in adolescents. Tindall (1989) suggests that peer counsellor trainers explore a variety

    of ways to approach a single training model that can augment and supplement the

    training process to meet specific group needs. The current project responded to this

    suggestion by investigating which counselling skills and behaviours adolescent peer

    counsellor trainees preferred, were easy to use by them, and were familiar to them,

    and then by using an intervention research process, devised a training program which

    incorporated these skills and behaviours into a typical adolescent helping

    conversation.

    A mixed method longitudinal design was used in an ecologically valid setting.

    The longitudinal nature of the design enabled statements about the process of the peer

    counsellors’ experience to be made. The project combined qualitative and

    quantitative methods of data gathering. Qualitative data reflects the phenomenological

    experience of the