Paraprofessionals help students cope

Online Poster

Online Poster

By Dan Petrella

For over 20 years, the Counseling Center has been recruiting students to help peers cope with the wide array of problems that they face in their daily lives through the Counseling Center Paraprofessionals Program.

Ralph Trimble, former director of the Counseling Center, started the program 27 years ago. His interest in the subject of test anxiety led him to start it.

“He was having a lot of folks come in one at a time talking about test anxiety,” said Dr. John Powell, a clinical counselor who has worked in the Counseling Center for 21 years.

Trimble recruited students and trained them to provide workshops to help other students deal with test anxiety, and the program grew from there, Powell said.

The program recruits 20 students a year for a three-semester sequence of advanced psychology courses. Students can apply in the fall semester of their sophomore or junior year. The students begin training during their first semester in the program and begin running workshops during the second semester. Powell and Janice Lines, another employee of the Counseling Center, are the course instructors and supervisors of the program.

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The workshops are presented in a series called “Tuesday @ 7” and cover a variety of topics in four main areas. These include academic skills, relationship skills, multicultural concerns and personal development, Powell said.

“We try to choose topics we think will be helpful to hear from a peer,” he said.

This week’s workshop, titled, “I love Me – building self-confidence,” will be given by Amanda Howald, senior in LAS, and Alistair Slaughter, junior in LAS. It is scheduled to take place from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday in room 209 of the Illini Union.

“So many of the problems on campus stem from a lack of self-confidence,” said Howland in an e-mail. “We are in the process of defining ourselves apart from our home and are making decisions that will impact the direction of our life.”

Howald said the workshop would consist mostly of group discussion and activities. The group will work together to generate a definition of self-confidence, work on identifying and changing negative thought processes, complete workbook activities to learn more about themselves and brainstorm ideas of how to treat themselves in more positive ways, she said.

“We want people to walk away being able to put into practice what they learned,” Howald said. “This isn’t just an informative workshop, participants are going to really have to examine themselves.”

Slaughter said that he feels self-awareness is a very important topic for college students, and that he and Howald have designed their workshop to address these concerns.

“You have to know yourself to accept yourself,” Slaughter said.

He said he thinks an activity called “common ground,” which will be used at the beginning of the workshop, will help students see they are not alone in dealing with issues related to self-confidence. In the activity, students stand in a circle while the workshop leaders read statements about experiences that relate to self-confidence, such as being nervous to ask someone out or getting off of an elevator on the wrong floor and then being too embarrassed to get back into the elevator. Anyone with these experiences steps into the circle.

At the beginning of the semester, the students in the program list their top three choices of workshop topics, and the program committee tries to assign them according to interest as best as possible.

Students prepare their workshops as a class assignment and receive a grade for the presentation, Powell said. They work with an assigned supervisor to research and develop their workshop and present it to the class a week before the public presentation to receive feedback from their classmates. A graduate assistant then attends the workshop and evaluates the presentation.

In addition to the “Tuesday @ 7” workshops, students in the program participate in Project AIM, which stands for Academic Improvement Methods. It pairs paraprofessional students one-on-one with students who are struggling academically to help them assess why they struggle and introduce them to resources available on campus.

Students also work with the campus cultural houses, Weston Exploration Hall and various other services provided by Counseling Center.

“I think (the program) gives them experience in putting together a presentation like this, which I think is very valuable for many of them who are likely to do something like this in their jobs,” Powell said.