The Peer Support Program

From 17 until 21 May 2014, two staff members of the EU Special Representative/Delegation to Afghanistan, Valentina Tropiano and Aref Sakhaei, attended in Kabul the Peer Support Volunteer (PSV) training, provided by the UN Department for Safety and Security (UNDSS) in cooperation with EUPOL Afghanistan.

The Peer Support Program is designed to assist UN staff members better manage work and family related issues by using the support of colleagues. A PSV is a fellow staff member who is willing and able to take on a helping role.  The PSV is ready to offer his/her support for: work related concerns, personal, interpersonal and family problems, daily stress and hardships, bereavement and trauma. While it is not a solution for all situations, it is an approach that extends support to a troubled staff member at times of adjustment, stress and emergencies and offers access to other helping resources.


The Program has been successfully tested and practiced by several UN agencies (i.e., UNICEF, UNHCR, etc.) and other international organizations for many years. While it is not a solution for all situations, it is an approach that extends support to a troubled staff member at times of adjustment, stress and emergencies and offers access to other helping resources.


The Peer Support volunteer is supposed to: 
•    listening actively to a staff member and his/her family who seek help;
•    showing empathy and understanding;
•    helping a colleague to clarify thoughts and feelings;
•    helping a colleague to consider options, and to reach decisions and find solutions;

The Peer Support fellow is not:
•    acting as a professional counselor;
•    taking responsibility for the other person;
•    giving personal advice;
•    providing solutions;
•    providing unlimited time and effort;

CONFIDENTIALITY
Being a PSV brings an obligation to understand the necessity for confidentiality. This includes:
•    Understanding that all peer support contacts are confidential.
•    Avoiding office gossip since it undermines the trust between the staff member and the PSV.
•    Only in life endangering situations (suicide/homicide) should UN managers be contacted regarding personal issues.
•    Once accepted as a PSV, all PSV’s will be required to sign a confidentiality pledge. Understanding and signing the pledge is an important component to being a PSV.

TRAINING
Colleagues who are selected to participate in the Peer Support program must complete a five-day UNDSS/PSV training program to strengthen and enhance their natural skills to help and support others. Content included in the training will include:
•    Stress management
•    Communication techniques
•    Helping skills
•    Crisis intervention
•    Diversity
•    Harassment
•    Dealing with loss and death
•    Interventions and referrals
•    Self-care strategies
•    Reporting procedures
•    Advocating for the PSV role.

PSV profile and “assessing fit” (qualities, attitude)
We know from research and experience that some individuals, either as a result of life experiences or training, may have a better idea of the qualities, attitudes or behaviours that a PSV role requires. Some of these are listed below.  As you read through them, try to honestly assess how good you are at doing them. We are not seeking mental health professionals, but we will expect professional behaviour when taking on the PSV role.  Don’t worry right now about whether you have the skills or not.  If you are selected to be a PSV, we will train you to better develop those skills.
What is important is that your existing behaviours and motivation provide a good starting point for the training program to follow. A good question to ask yourself is whether people seek you out now to ask for your advice or perspective on personal problems.

SOME KEY ELEMENTS OF PEER SUPPORT:
•    Giving the other person one’s undivided attention
•    Withholding any kind of judgment
•    Refraining from giving personal advice
•    Setting boundaries in terms of your time limits and responsibility for the problem
•    Refraining from taking responsibility for the other staff member
•    Knowing your limits and being able to refer a peer to a health professional/staff counsellor in case of need

THE FOLLOWING QUALITIES ARE VIEWED AS DESIRABLE FOR POTENTIAL PEER SUPPORT:
•    Current UN or any other international organization staff member (international or national);
•    UN, NGO or other relevant field experience;
•    A caring attitude and respect for colleagues;
•    Demonstrated appreciation and value for diversity (including gender differences), honesty, and integrity;
•    Earned respect and a high standing among colleagues;
•    Proficiency in personal communication with excellent listening abilities;
•    Demonstrated maturity and social responsibility;
•    A forthright attitude, trust, and reliability recognized by colleagues;
•    Motivation, patience and an interest in learning more about human behavior;
•    Ability to maintain confidentiality;
•    Awareness of the necessity to function within personal limits; and
•    Reasonable knowledge of English as all training will be delivered in English language. 

PEER SUPPORT IS DISCOURAGED BY:
•    Minimizing and trivializing a person’s problems
•    Criticizing them for not being able to manage a situation or problem
•    Moralizing or sermonizing about why she or he may be in the situation she or he is in
•    Passing judgment on his or her behaviour
•    Overreacting and acting as if this is the worst possible thing that has ever happened.

CONCLUSIONS
Once they have completed a five-day training program, PSVs are expected to fulfill the following duties:
•    Offer a listening ear to staff members in need. The PSV function does NOT include diagnosing the problem or professional counseling, but is limited to providing basic help, support and referrals (if necessary).
•    Liaise with the UNDSS Stress Counselors in the event of a critical incident, and arrange for, or offer, support to staff.
•    Identify resource persons/agencies and counseling facilities in the country; gather information about, and establish a working relationship with these resources for potential referrals.
•    Maintain confidentiality of information. A key Peer Support principle is to protect the confidentiality of personal information revealed to the PSV. All PSVs are required to sign a confidentiality pledge, binding them to keep all matters brought to them in their capacity as PSV in strictest confidence.  Confidentiality extends to protecting private information from the staff member’s supervisor, the staff association, etc.
•    Statistically report on all work carried out as a PSV to the UNDSS Stress Counselor on a monthly basis. The reports are confidential, containing no personal information about staff assisted.
•    Raise awareness about the role of the PSV in their office.
The PSV will be supported and monitored by the UNDSS Stress Counselors.  Those PSVs who successfully complete the training and who carry out their PSV role effectively should expect to be invited to participate in advanced level training at a later date.


Amongst the duties of a PSV, there is the commitment to “advertise“ the program to the external world. Therefore I wanted to share with the readers of “Il Caos Management” this experience, so that it becomes more well-known…looking forward to others to join it !

Valentina Tropiano Zanghì

36 anni, è originaria di Udine e ha lavorato a Mogadiscio come Planning Officer ed Executive Officer (ad interim) presso la Missione EUCAP Somalia, che si occupa di supportare la capacity bruilding nel settore della sicurezza marittima in Somalia. Distaccata dal Ministro degli Affari Esteri. in precedenza ha lavorato come Consigliere Politico nell’ ambito della Riforma del Settore Sicurezza presso l’ Ufficio del Rappresentante Speciale dell’ Unione Europea nonche’ ad EUPOL Afghanistan a Kabul, e presso la NATO ad Herat. E’ stata cinque volte osservatore elettorale OSCE in Asia Centrale. Oltre a studio e lavoro, si é dedicata ad attività più mondane: nel 2006 ha fatto il suo debutto in società in occasione del Gran Ballo delle Debuttanti “Vienna sul Lago”, a Stresa, e l'anno successivo all'Opernball di Vienna. Ha collaborato con soddisfazione con il professor Vincenzo Porcasi, docente di Diritto del Commercio Internazionale presso la facoltà di Scienze Politiche dell’Università di Trieste, ed è Cultore della Materia. Nel 2016 e’ stata altresi’ nominata Cultore della Materia in Storia delle Relazioni Internazionali. Nel 2017 ha prestato giuramento di fedelta’ alla Repubblica in quanto Tenente della Riserva Selezionata dell’ Esercito Italiano. Nel 2012 il Segretario Generale della NATO le ha conferito la medaglia NON-ART 5 per il suo impegno nella missione NATO/ISAF in Afghanistan. La sua casa ora e’ a Verona, dove  vive con suo marito e lavora presso Technital SpA, occupandosi di gare d’appalto di ingegneria civile con l’estero.


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