As a veteran psychologist in clinical and consulting practice outside Philadelphia, who has also founded a research collaborative between leading independent schools and the University of Pennsylvania, conducted global studies on boys’ education, and published numerous books, research articles and opinion pieces on my work, I have often described my commitment to a peer counseling approach to boys’ emotional development.
When I began to work at a school outside Philadelphia many years ago, I realized that boys’ need and interest to talk about their lives far exceeded the resource available in a conventional school counseling model. I also realized that that most boys vastly preferred to talk to each other than to a strange adult, even when he was an experienced professional. For these reasons, I developed a peer counseling program as a way to prevent the ills of emotional restrictedness and to offer boys an opportunity to practice emotional literacy. What resulted has been wonderfully successful. In a visit to the program, a writer for the University of Pennsylvania’s alumni publication, the Penn Gazette, which featured the program for a cover story, sat in on a session and wrote: “What transpires over the next hour is unlike anything I ever experienced in my youth—or, if I’m being honest, my adulthood.” I am myself frequently awed by how whole-heartedly the young men embrace the opportunity to be real with each other and help each other take care of their mental well-being.
In several things I have written, including my most recent book, How to Raise a Boy: The Power of Connection to Build Good Men, I have described how participation in Reevaluation Counseling benefited my own life, inspired my decision to become a psychologist as a way to “pay it forward,” and provided me with an understanding of how ably people can naturally help themselves through all sorts of emotional challenges and trauma. There are many aspects of the RC model that make it work but perhaps most important is the completely voluntary nature of the relationship of the participant to the organization. It is the individual who must figure his own way out of difficulties and problematic behaviors; there is no advice-giving in this self-help model. I invite the boys to in my program to openly care about each other and to listen deeply to each other; they do not substitute their thinking for that of the boy they listen to. The stories of some students who participated in the Boston School District program sound like they had a different, unfortunate experience.
In times when misinformation, distortion and sensationalism are so common, all of us have developed a healthy skepticism about claims made by any organization, particularly those advocating cultural change. Despite the experiences of some participants in Boston, I can vouch for the transformative possibilities of this model for helping regular people help each other.
Michael C. Reichert, PhD