In peer support, clarity around roles is essential.
When you take a paid or volunteer position on campus it’s important to be aware of expectations that come with your position. Knowing your job description will support you in getting a handle on the boundaries you need to have in place.
If you have a drop-in peer support position that includes offering empathy and emotional support, then it is within the scope of your role to listen deeply to someone’s struggles. If that is your role, you will have training on deep listening, and communication. You will be clear on when the concerns the person is sharing moves beyond your scope. It’s important that you are confident about where your boundaries end and when you need to refer them to the counselling department.
If you have a role where you support students with campus resources, or anything academic, you will likely have a different type of training. Moving into mental health or emotional support could be outside of the scope of your training and experience. If you feel unequipped to respond in those situations, it’s important to have clear boundaries when someone discloses something that is outside of your job description. Be clear on what the next steps need to be in referring them to someone else. It’s important that you are clear with people about what you can do to support them, and what you can’t do.
Each campus will approach peer support work differently, so it is important that you get this clarification from your direct supervisor.
- How does it feel for you when someone shares their personal struggles with you?
- Do you feel equipped to be able to listen? If not, what do you think you need?
Creating Boundaries in Ongoing Peer Relationships
Together with the person you will be supporting, you have the opportunity to come up with the boundaries you wish to set. The following list provides examples of boundary topics that some peer support workers and the people they support have discussed in boundary creation. (This is by no means an exhaustive list.)
- Meeting places–where do both of you feel comfortable meeting? Are there places that feel uncomfortable?
- What topics are Ok to discuss?
- Are there topics that are NOT OK to talk about together? If a topic makes you uncomfortable, for whatever reason, be clear on that.
- How will you get in touch with each other?
- Are there any forms of communication that are not ok for either of you?
- Are there any cultural, religious or spiritual considerations to keep in mind?
- How will we address each other outside of peer support work? For example if we see each other at a party, or if we have a class together?
- What are some other topics you think would be important to discuss when co-creating boundaries together?
- Some people find conversations around boundaries difficult. What challenges can you see happening in the relationship if this dialogue never happens?
- Why do you think some people struggle with boundary creation?