“A man falls into a hole so deep he can’t get out. A doctor walks by, and the man calls for help. The doctor writes a prescription, tosses it into the hole, and walks on. A priest walks by, and the man tries again. The priest writes a prayer, tosses it into the hole, and walks on. Finally, a friend walks by, and again the man asks for help. To his surprise, the friend jumps in with him. “Why did you do that?” the man asks. “Now we’re both in the hole.” “Yes,” the friend responds. “But I’ve been in this hole before, and I know the way out.”
—Rebecca Clay, SAMHSA News 2004
Peers have a unique ability to connect and communicate in a more intimate and empathic way than professionals who must adhere to principles such as objectivity, boundaries, chain of command. My intent is not to devalue these principles for they foster healthy relationships between professionals and their patients/clients. But there is something to be said about the powerful impact of having someone jump into that hole with you and guide you through shared their experience.
Peer-to-peer support has been effective throughout the years in programs such as A.A. and the vast number of support groups that address common challenges from ones’ health to academic achievement. We learn from others who are willing to share their stories. Familiar challenges present along with a chance to explore the skills & attitudes used by others to manage that challenge. We can then think about how we can apply what we learned to our own experiences.
Unfortunately, we don’t see much peer coaching going on with adolescents. We’d like to see that change. With a bit of training, adolescent peer coaching could be the strongest tool in the box when it comes to our fiercely independent youth finding their way out of the hole.
Charlene Fernald Moynihan