“Welcome to the House. Would you like to talk?”
Upon entering the front door, every visitor receives the same greeting – a warm invitation to come in and make use of the diverse services the House has to offer. Located across from Regan Main, the House is the student-run peer counseling center at UC Davis sponsored by Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).
Helping students help themselves
The House offers students an opportunity to have one-on-one, confidential and supportive peer counseling. Student volunteers, which include both interns and coordinators, are trained to deal with any of the personal problems college students face – from homesickness to relationship issues to depression.
A visitor who wants to talk is led by a houser to a private room (complete with a noise-maker outside the door to ensure privacy) where he or she is invited to sit on the carpeted floor among dozens of throw pillows. Nobody sits behind a desk, nobody takes notes and nobody talks down.
“The entire environment is supposed to be non-intimidating, and sitting on the floor helps us to see eye-to-eye [with the student],“ said Evani Gatbonton, a junior psychology major and current houser.
The counseling style offered by the house is peer-to-peer and “non-directive,” meaning that housers stay away from giving advice, making suggestions or bringing in their own personal lives. Instead, they focus on facilitating introspection, and on guiding the student seeking help (who in House jargon is known as a “contact“) through his or her thoughts and feelings.
“We stay detached, and try to pull out thoughts by asking questions, getting [contacts] to think deeper, and helping them listen to themselves. Everything they decide is their decision,“ Gatbonton said.
More than just talk
For students who seek support on personal issues, a peer who is willing to actively listen may be just what they need. And for those who require extra assistance, the House can also be a helpful intermediary to assist students in finding the resources they need to solve their problems. After their one-on-one meeting, a houser will often help the contact find additional resources on and off campus.
“We’re peer counselors, and if we can’t offer all the help that someone might need, we can be a stepping stone,” said Christopher Leech, a House veteran and current meetings coordinator.
Students are given information on how to contact CAPS, where they can meet with a professional psychologist or psychiatrist, or to contact other campus organizations, like the Campus Violence Prevention Program (CVPP), Cross-Cultural Center, or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center (LGBTRC).
But if students are simply stressed out and need a place to unwind, the House offers many other opportunities students can take advantage of. Students are encouraged to drop by during regular hours for free massage chair sessions (a very popular option), browse through books and tapes on a variety of physical and mental health topics and to take yoga and meditation classes – all free of charge.
The newest attraction at the House is the bio-feedback machine, which measures an individual’s heartbeat and breathing rate in order to gauge his or her level of anxiety. Using games and exercises presented on a computer screen, the program helps the student understand how his or her body reacts to stress.
“When you become familiar with how to control your heart and breathing rate on the machine, you can control your stress levels off the machine by regulating your breathing and lowering your anxiety level,“ explained Leech.
In addition to their on-site services, the House also works with Student Housing and Resident Advisers to bring tailor-made programs directly to freshmen living in the dorms. In conjunction with Health Education Promotion (HEP), House employees work off-hours on their Stress-Busters program to help first-years adjust smoothly to college life.
“We teach them different ways to cope with stress in a healthy manner, like breathing exercises, and talk to them about daily academic stress, financial stress [and] relationships,” said Pamela Lozoff, a senior psychology and Spanish major and the House’s mind-body wellness co-coordinator. “We want to get rid of the stigma of going to seek help. It’s okay to seek help, and we want people to know that we are there for them.“
How to become a houser
And interns, as well as contacts, get something meaningful from their experiences.
“[Housers] have a common bond,” Leech said. “We’re empathetic people who like to be open and talk about our feelings.… When I walk into the House, I feel like there is a connection where you can talk to anyone. And you get a direct sense of satisfaction each time you know you’ve helped someone.“
House interns also receive credit hours and transcript notation for their work.
The internship application process at the House begins each winter quarter, and consists of a paper application, a group interview, and a personal interview. During spring quarter, trainees attend various weekly sessions to prepare them in how to deal with different issues. Hours as an intern begin the following fall.
“Each week [during training], we have two to three role-plays where an older houser will pretend to be a contact, and we practice being counselor. It gives us a lot of experience,” said Gatbonton.
Trainees attend various large and small group sessions, and are paired with a mentor – an older houser who can guide them along the way. All in all, training usually takes seven to nine hours a week during spring quarter. It may seem daunting at first, but housers are driven by a sense of purpose and the rewards they obtain from their experience.
“[The House] has been the best experience I’ve ever had. It gives me a new perspective on my thoughts, an opportunity to see the other side of things, a different perspective on people, and how we can understand each other better. I found one of my best friends during training.… I don’t feel like I put enough time into [the House] compared to how much I’ve gotten out of it,” said Gatbonton.
The House is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Students are encouraged to drop by any time for questions or services, and those interested in internships can leave their contact information for the application processes beginning winter quarter.
For more information call 752-2790.
ANDRE LEE can be reached at email@example.com