Peer listening service to restart with fewer hours, plans to grow

Sophia Bollag, Web Editor

The NU Listens pilot program will restart its call-in peer listening services Sunday night.

The service, which allows Northwestern students to call anonymously to talk to a peer listener, will operate fewer hours than it did when its pilot program began at the start of Spring Quarter. Now the service will operate from 8 p.m. Sunday nights through 2 a.m. Monday mornings and 8 p.m. Monday nights through 2 a.m. Tuesday mornings. Last quarter, the program operated during the same hours three nights a week.

NU Listens will also alter its quarter-long training process for new listeners to include more role-playing exercises and to address a broader range of topics that might come up during conversations with students who call in, said John Dunkle, the executive director of Counseling and Psychological Services, who oversees the program.

“The changes this year are because we’re a small program,” said Caroline Spiezio, NU Listens’ training chair and a Medill sophomore. “We cut it down to two nights so we can focus on making it better right now while it’s small so we can grow it into a very amazing organization that can help as many students as possible on Northwestern’s campus.”

NU Listens’ director Tiana Hickey, a Weinberg junior, said the program has about 10 listeners this quarter, and she hopes at least 15 will be working by the beginning of Winter Quarter.

Although the group does not release the number of students who call in to avoid deterring potential callers, Dunkle said the service was used by students last year.

“We haven’t gotten a lot (of calls), but again we’re piloting,” he said. “It’s another avenue for students to get access to services — I think it’s important to have multiple avenues.”

Currently, Dunkle serves as the primary adviser for the group. However, he said in the future the group needs a dedicated staffer who can devote time to the program. The University provided funding to hire three new CAPS psychologists in 2013, but did not provide funding for an NU Listens staff member, a position Dunkle requested.

“We’re going to need someone who has dedicated time to really oversee the service — to do training, to do recruitment,” he said. “A peer listening service plays a really important role for students who wouldn’t necessarily reach out to mental health professionals as a first step.”

A sophomore who works as a listener for NU Listens told The Daily he believes sharing concerns with a peer instead of a professional makes the conversations more “informal” and makes it easier for students to seek help.

“It allows people to have immediate support at a time when other resources might not be open,” he said.

Because part of the listeners’ job requires that they remain anonymous, the sophomore requested that his name not be used for this article. He said he joined NU Listens in order to contribute to the culture of helping others he has observed at NU.

“It’s really nice to listen to people who need or want an outside ear,” he said. “I know I’ve needed support before, and it’s nice to pay it forward.”

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Previous stories on this topic:

    NU Listens launches peer listening service for mental health support
    In Focus: Improving mental health resources at Northwestern