Johns Hopkins Gazette: December 4, 1995

Undergrads Find It Helpful To Find Have A Place To Talk

Leslie Rice
Homewood News and Information

     I'm listening.

     Two words a lot of people don't hear often, do very well
themselves or even have the boldness to demand. 

     But every night in two rooms on the Homewood campus, a group
of Hopkins students devote themselves to the forgotten art of
listening. And as the holidays loom, those two rooms can get
pretty busy.

     Since it began a dozen years ago, A Place To Talk, Hopkins'
peer counseling program, has become, for many undergraduates, the
heartbeat of the Hopkins campus. Last year the program logged 500
visits from students who wanted to talk about issues in their
lives. During those years in which a crisis occurs--a suicide,
for example--the center has been known to log upward of 700

     On the first floor of AMR1, a coffee pot gurgles next to a
box of Dunkin' Donuts while an odd assortment of toys--Slinkies,
Legos and crayons--randomly clutters the APTT room.

     "Sometimes students need an excuse to come into the room,"
explains Elle Rabinovich, a senior who chairs APTT. "So they come
in, grab a doughnut and fiddle around with the Legos while we ask
them what's going on."

     The cardinal rule for peer counselors is not to give advice.
Instead, peer counselors are active listeners.

     "What students often need is for someone to help direct
their thoughts, to be asked questions," says Rabinovich, an
international relations and anthropology double major minoring in
Russian. "Often they have the answers themselves, they just need
to find them. If a student is in crisis, we'll walk them to the
Counseling Center."

     All 25 peer counselors are intensely committed to the
program. They train for three hours every Wednesday night for an
entire semester and, once trained, work one night every week from
8 p.m. to midnight. Program consultant Clare King, from the
Counseling and Student Development Center, and a psychiatry
instructor, says it is exceedingly rare for counselors ever to
miss a shift. They know some students have grown comfortable with
certain counselors and have come to depend on that counselor's

     "Last week, for example, one of the peer counselors missed a
shift for the first time because she went with a student who was
taken to the hospital," says King. "One of the freshmen left
messages for her saying he was worried about her and wanted to
make sure she was all right and taking care of herself."

     Peer counselors often wonder who gets the most out of APTT,
the volunteers or the students. For many volunteers, their
commitment to the program often lasts beyond college. In fact,
two Hopkins graduates, one now completing medical school at
Hopkins, the other a graduate student at the School of Public
Health, still work regular shifts for APTT at Homewood. Alumni
volunteers from 12 years ago are still in touch with King and
visit APTT whenever in town.

     "The joke is that once you're in APTT, you can never leave,"
Rabinovich says. "It's impossible not to feel connected to each
other and to the program."

     Peer counselors also say the listening skills they acquire
through APTT are tools they use every day. 

     In the busy emergency room of a Sacramento hospital, Steve
Bretz ('91) says he relies as much on the listening skills he
gained through APTT as he does on his medical training. 

     "Those skills we learned--listening without judging, how to
position your body and use your hands, the eye contact, all those
things that tell a person you're really listening--I use those
skills every single day in the ER," says Bretz. "Sometimes you
have to dig to find out the real reason why someone is in the
emergency room. It makes me a better doctor."

     Three years ago, a handful of APTT volunteers began spending
summers in Eastern Europe to implement peer counseling programs
in high schools in Hungary, Romania and Lithuania and in refugee
camps in Bosnia and Croatia. 

     Kathleen Curry ('93) was one of the first APTT students to
travel overseas.

     "It is much harder to implement the program in a former
communist country than on an American college campus," says
Curry, who spent two years in Lithuania. "Introspection is not a
culturally valued thing in these countries. Most of the students
don't find it at all easy to talk about themselves or even
consider it useful. So when they do grasp it and begin to trust
peer counseling,  it is intensely gratifying." 

     APTT is located in the basement of Levering Hall and in the
lobby of AMR1 under Baker Hall. It is open from 8 p.m. until
midnight every night except Saturday through Dec. 20 and will
reopen for intersession Jan. 2. No appointments are needed.
Students interested in becoming a peer counselor should call
Clare King at (410) 516-8278.

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