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Ins and outs of staffing the Bridge

Courtesy of Astrid Casimire

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like staffing at the Bridge Peer Counseling Center, I can assure you it’s more rewarding than you think. The Bridge is an anonymous support service that allows students to call in and talk to a peer counselor at any time, day or night (walk-in hours are also available, from 9 a.m. to midnight daily). Curious to see if my fellow Bridge staffers love the job as much as I do, I reached out to them to get the scoop on their experiences from being on call to inadvertently counseling our friends (oops).

I remember when I first learned of the Bridge: One night during freshman year, I was hunched over my laptop under the dim light of my desk lamp as my roommate slept a couple feet away. A simple Google search led me to their website, and within seconds I knew I wanted to be a part of this community.

Now as a staffer, I can easily say it’s been one of my most rewarding and learning experiences at Stanford. I’ve listened to stressed students, coordinated wellness events, sat in on discussions about mental health on campus and am now a teaching assistant for the peer counseling class EDUC 193A. My Bridge journey has taught me so much; it has not always been easy, but that’s why we have a wonderful, supportive community behind us.

I first encountered the Bridge’s loving community at my first staff meeting and orientation session. Spring quarter, sophomore year, and searching for community in the aftermath of sophomore slump, I found just what I was looking for. I remember an overwhelming sense of warmth and belonging from the students around me. We introduced ourselves in concentric circles on the damp grass between Bechtel and Rogers House. Every staffer I met had the same desire to help students despite being from different places. This is what strikes me about the Bridge. We are not bound by hobbies, talents or identities, but by an innate goodness and desire to support.

Our internal community and the sense of community we give to others is one of the best things about the Bridge. When I asked what they liked about staffing the Bridge, here’s what they said:

“Definitely the community,” said Caroline Zha, human biology major, ’20. “I personally really love the work that we do, but it’s also really taxing. I’ve always felt like the people who staff here do it because they’re genuinely compassionate, kind people who care a lot about taking care of others.”

Celine Gandingco, psychology major, ’19, agreed: “I like the community that comes along with staffing the Bridge. It’s not just a place to provide a service that helps others, but a place where we can all gather to share our experiences and bond as Bridge staffers … [It] is a network of people there to support each other.”

Angela Lee, psychology and communications major, ‘19, added: “Stanford can be hard, challenging and stressful, and just knowing that there is a community of other students like you who will always be there to pick up the phone is an incredibly powerful feeling.”

“I love the community and getting to know all the staffers,” said live-in counselor Amanda Spyropoulos, a mechanical engineering and computer science major, ’19. “I think the Bridge staffing community is one of the kindest and most caring groups I’ve met at Stanford.”

Like Zha mentioned, it can be taxing. I remember leaving my first walk-in counsel feeling weary and wondering whether I’d actually helped. I recall another day picking up the phone and counseling someone while facing my own struggles, wishing that our roles were reversed. When asked about the ups and downs of staffing the Bridge, my peers shared stories of tough calls and burnout. But in the end, we could all agree that the fulfillment of helping someone in distress keeps us going.

According to Hannah Nguyen, biology major, ‘19, “Burnout is definitely real and terrible.” This rings true especially for the live-in counselors – students who reside at the Bridge, take overnight shifts and essentially hold down the fort year-round.

Spyropoulos said, “I do get woken up at night by calls, and although I sometimes feel a bit tired the next day, I also realize that I’ve truly helped someone each time I answer a call.”

“My mood is definitely impacted by my most recent Bridge shift,” stated Molly Irvin, psychology major, ’20. “After a really tough call that I don’t know if I handled well, I can get really hard on myself … But when a call goes well, I feel so confident and fulfilled for days.”

Samantha Starkey, human biology major, ‘19 articulated one of the most satisfying aspects of peer counseling: seeing the counselee arrive at their own solutions.

“Our peer counseling philosophy is centered around listening, with the assumption that people have the capacity to come up with their own coping methods and solutions,”Starkey said. “I’ve had so many moments in counsels where I … admire how well someone is able to self-reflect on their feelings and come up with plans to address issues. This work has given me the chance to see some pretty incredible resilience, and I cherish that.”

Vickie Wang, psychology major, ‘19, stated, “My favorite thing about staffing the Bridge is that I’m able to have a clear and immediate impact on others. Hearing ‘this really helped’ or ‘I feel better now’ at the end of a counsel inspires me to continue doing this work.”

And the end of the day, peer counseling has improved our lives and character; we are better friends and communicators, more empathetic and grateful, less judgmental and not as quick to proffer advice. There are few things more worthwhile.

Moreover, for me, being a Bridge staffer underscores the importance of asking for help. I hesitate to text my friends in times of distress, but when I do, all it takes is a couple short texts, a conversation or simply their presence to lift my spirits. Knowing that someone cares and can listen, validate and support me when I’m low is so vital.

Last year, as a junior going on my third quarter of peer counseling, I called the Bridge on the verge of tears. I had 20 minutes to spare before leaving my dorm to attend God-knows-what commitment, and by the end of that time, I felt noticeably better. Even as a counselor, I have to constantly remind myself to ask for help when I need it.

If you need a friend, call us. If you want to be a friend for others, join us! Aspiring counselors and any interested students must complete EDUC 193A: Listen Up! Core Peer Counseling Skills, a two-unit, credit/no credit class offered all three quarters. It took two attempts for me to get credit (napping before an attendance-based class is never a good idea), but here I am.

We are the Bridge, and we’re here for you.

 

Contact Astrid Casimire at acasimir ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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