Senior Peer Counselling of British Columbia was founded in 1989 to bring together in a formally constituted organization, groups which had been providing senior peer counselling services in the province. The Senior Peer Counselling of British Columbia Certificate of Incorporation is dated February 08, 1993 and the first board of directors was formed. Senior Peer Counselling became federally registered as a Canadian charitable organization in the spring of 1995. SPC/BC now brings together under one umbrella, many of the senior peer support groups throughout the province.
SPC/BC Mission Statement:
Senior Peer Counselling of British Columbia is an incorporated provincial non-profit society since 1992, dedicated to providing information, education, consultation, support and networking services to its members and representing senior peer counselling to all levels of government and other senior organizations.
Our member groups address the health of older adults by providing emotional support and other related services as are needed in their individual communities.
The first senior peer counselling program in B.C. was established in Victoria in 1984 at the James Bay Community Clinic. The training curriculum was developed by Dr. Honoré France, Faculty of Education, University of Victoria. Training was extensive and focused on Communication Skills, The Helping Process, Problem management, emotional support, and practicing the empathic approach to listening.
The peer Counselling Concept according to France is a method for offering a more comprehensive approach in giving mental and emotional support. Peer counselling is based on the assumption that, when older people have a problem or concern, they will seek out their peers, people like themselves. Peer counsellors are older people trained in helping skills who genuinely care about others and are willing to listen and talk to other seniors about the thoughts and feelings raised by their problem.
Effective peer counsellors use communication skills to help other older people use their own strengths to solve problems. Building on the skills and modes of expression that come with age, peer counselling emphasizes the skills of empathy, active listening, reflection of meaning, and self-disclosure.
As trained volunteers, peer counsellors can work in an informal and/or a formal way. Informally, peer counsellors work within their own social network with those who are experiencing some life-changing circumstance. For example, if they see someone who is sad or lonely and having difficulty adjusting to a new living arrangement, they could visit that person. Once they have built a trusting relationship, they then would support that person to develop a new social network or become more comfortable in the altered situation. Secondly, a peer counsellor can work alongside a professional service provider. For example, if the service provider is counselling a grieving person, a peer counsellor can spend the needed time listening and companioning the person through the process. The result is that more in-depth help can be offered along with follow up care.
We continue to follow closely the curriculum of Dr. Honoré France while at the same time being aware of our different cultures and adapting as needed. Our current training model is based on 54 hours of training with an in depth focus on Active Communications, understanding the challenges many people face as we age and the available community resources. The training model is a combination of blending skill development and experientially based activities. Role playing in a supportive learning environment provides an empowering and educational perspective. Continued opportunities for learning, as well as encouragement and positive reinforcement of their valued role is essential. The training and volunteer experience is both meaningful and enjoyable.
SPC/BC acknowledges, with appreciation, those individuals and groups who pioneered the work of senior peer counselling in our province. Their determination and wisdom has helped to develop the network of helper volunteers who provide a valuable and valued service to seniors in our communities.
Dr. Honoré France, Faculty of Education, University of Victoria, initiated the first SPC training project designed the curriculum and trained the first volunteers. His manual “Peer Counselling: Helping Seniors Help Seniors” formed the basis for the training model used by Senior Peer Counselling programs.
Vancouver West End, Nanaimo, Quesnel, Trail, Victoria and Peachland served as the sites to field test the pilot volunteer Senior Peer Counsellor training.
Goldie Callow was instrumental in the founding of SPC/BC and produced “Guidelines For Implementation Of Senior Peer Counselling Programs”, a manual intended as a framework for individual groups to develop a program appropriate to their specific requirements.
Patricia Wheeler served as the first provincial coordinator of SPC/BC and was tasked with formulating the administrative direction of the Association, producing “Senior Peer Counselling Program Administration Guidelines”.
Beryl Petty coordinated the Peer Counselling programs at Century House in New Westminster and Marpole Place for Seniors in Vancouver and undertook a number of special projects for SP/BC including the training manuals and videos: “Prevention of alcohol misuse among Seniors”, “seniors and mental health” and “seniors and Continuing Care”.
Truda Loewen provided training for the trainers of many senior peer counselling programs and produced an accompanying Trainer’s Training manual.
Heidi Andrie coordinated the Peer Counselling program at the West End Seniors Network in Vancouver for many years and succeeded Truda as the provincial trainer of trainers for senior peer counselling groups throughout BC.
Ellie Gerhardt compiled a provincial training manual for new senior peer counselling groups which amalgamated materials from other SPC/BC training manuals.
SPC/BC coordinators and directors who, in the early years, blazed the path for the successful programs which exist today.
Over the years many devoted volunteers have served both on the Board of directors of SPC/BC and as peer counsellors in the SPC programs. Their generous gifts of time and caring deserve our utmost appreciation.