Effects of a reciprocal peer counseling program for college students : a randomized controlled trial
The severity and prevalence of student mental health issues at U.S. colleges and universities are steadily rising (Prince, 2015). Given that counseling and mental health centers (CMHCs) increasingly strain to meet student demand (Smith et al., 2007; Xiao et al., 2017), innovative programs are needed to supplement existing services and preventively address root causes. This proposal outlines a randomized controlled trial of one such program at the University of Texas at Austin: a group peer counseling program where students take turns as both providers and recipients of peer support. Participation is expected to decrease loneliness and increase mental flourishing. This is hypothesized to be due to the benefits of providing and receiving support in a consistent group of peers. To assess differences in participants’ levels of loneliness and flourishing, repeated measures analyses of variance will be conducted. Evaluative points will be at baseline, upon program completion, and 4 weeks post-completion, as compared to treatment as usual. Study results would directly inform one promising avenue through which CMHCs can evolve to meet rising student demand while simultaneously addressing root causes of mental distress.