A bridge over troubled water

April 11, 2012, 3:02 a.m.

It’s no secret: College life is replete with its own set of unique expectations and anxieties. Whether academic, athletic, professional or personal, these demands can take a toll on student well-being.

A bridge over troubled water
The Bridge Peer Counseling Center, founded in 1971 and located in Rogers House, offers free counseling for Stanford students and Bay Area locals conducted by trained student volunteers. (M.J. MA/The Stanford Daily)

Though the Stanford campus is home to a professional mental health and counseling center, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) located at Vaden Health Center, the University hosts another student support resource: the Bridge Peer Counseling Center.

The Bridge has been an integral part of the Stanford community since 1971, when it was founded as a student-run drug-counseling center by Vincent D’Andrea, former staff psychiatrist for student health at Stanford. The name of the center was inspired by the uplifting Simon and Garfunkel song “Bridge over Troubled Water,” released in 1970, which describes an individual’s promise to support his friend in dire times.

Since the 1970s, the Bridge has evolved into a peer counseling, workshop and support center for Stanford and the surrounding Palo Alto area. The Bridge staff counsels between 400 to 600 visitors annually and hosts wellness events throughout the year.

Until 2009, the annual Stanford Spring Faire, an arts and craft fair that attracted people from throughout California and the Bay Area with a variety of booths and events, funded the Bridge’s operations. Since then, however, the center has been primarily funded through ASSU special fees.

Located in Rogers House near the Faculty Club and Tresidder Memorial Union, the Bridge’s office is a 24 hours a day, seven days a week operation that invites students to drop in from 9 a.m. to midnight or call at any hour of the day for counseling conducted by trained undergraduate and graduate students.

Several volunteer peer counselors live in the house, and counselors bring homework to their shifts, as a way to give the counseling center the casual, inviting appearance of a friend’s dorm room as opposed to that of a professional counseling office. The goal is to create a laid-back and comfortable environment in which students can feel safe and at ease while discussing their problems.

Despite the inviting décor and the friendly staff, a larger number of students use the 24-hour call-in support system than the drop-in services. According to the Bridge, most cases they address relate to romantic relationships or friendships, with the second most common issue being academic stress.

“I was feeling really stressed [during] my freshman year, and I felt like everyone else could handle it except for me,” said a junior, who chose to remain anonymous. “I called the Bridge twice, and both times they really helped me feel less anxious. I don’t know if I would have been able to get grounded without their help.”

Aspiring Bridge counselors must take two mandatory classes and pass an evaluation. Education 193A: Core Listening Skills, a two-unit course, teaches general peer counseling and listening skills. In addition to serving as a necessary component of the Bridge’s training program, this class is a requirement for most counseling positions on campus.

In addition to Education 193A, the Bridge trainees must take Education 193P: Peer Counseling at the Bridge, a one-unit class that instructs participants on how to properly counsel students and covers the expectations of work at the center.

“We have guest speakers every week to talk about issues students might call about,” said Emily Cohodes ’13, a teaching assistant for Education 193A and a current peer counselor at the Bridge.

“I had some pretty serious calls last year,” Cohodes said. “It is really important to learn how to handle them.”

The Bridge counselors who do not live in the house take three-hour shifts and very often do not receive many calls or drop-in visitors. However, when calls do come in, counselors can make a huge difference in the lives of the students and other individuals who enlist their services. For Tara Hasan ’13, a counselor at The Bridge, the thanks she receives from the students she counsels are a constant reminder of why she volunteers there.

“The reason I keep [working] with The Bridge is at the end they are legitimately thanking me for helping them,” she said.

The Bridge is open for walk-ins from 9 a.m. to 12 a.m. Their call-in service is available 24 hours a day.

 —  Ethan  Kessinger

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