Building a Healthy Campus Culture
The practice of counselling is a fairly new concept in Central Asia. At UCA, the counselling office is dedicated to ensuring students and staff receive the support they need to succeed academically, personally, and socially. To better understand the role of these services at UCA, a Summer Counselling Skills workshop pilot project was held at the Naryn Campus from August 5-10. The project aimed at evaluating whether interpersonal skills building approaches would be helpful in the Central Asian post-secondary setting. It was developed to introduce UCA staff and faculty to foundational helping skills, and also provided a capacity building opportunity for staff to increase interpersonal skills and deepen a healthy campus culture.
During the six-day workshop, participants explored different cultural approaches to helping encourage conversations, and enhance their confidence to assist in crisis situations. The participants had multiple opportunities to practice and receive personalised feedback about their active listening and empathy skills. Participants and instructors found the first UCA Summer Counselling Skills workshop to be a deeply rewarding experience and are excited to take their new knowledge, skills and attitudes about intercultural communication back to their workplaces and home communities. “I realised that counselling is not simply talking to someone. It is more sensitive and complex, and having deep conversation’s using certain skills has surprised me the most about learning,” said one of the participants. “The skills I have learnt at the workshop have made my conversations more productive.”
The sessions were developed and led by Robin Higgins, UCA’s Counsellor at the Khorog Campus, and Jonathan Morris, a Canadian counselling and group skills instructor at the University of Victoria and Douglas College in Canada, and Director of Planning and Strategic Priorities at the Canadian Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions. Higgins and Morris are both experienced counsellors and have collaborated with developing “Healthy Minds and Healthy Campus” initiatives in British Colombia, Canada.
“As I look back on my co-teaching experiences at the UCA Naryn Campus, the six-day workshop stands out as a highlight of my career in higher education," said Morris. "Each and every participant grew throughout the week and tried new skills, while bringing diverse cultural perspectives, beliefs, and practices to the practice of listening. I left thoroughly impressed with the group and I am excited about the ripple effects of the kinds of conversations the participants might go on to have with their new and strengthened skills."
The workshop was offered to 18 participants from five countries, with representatives from human resources, finance, SPCE, SAS and student life departments, as well as two undergraduate students participating in the learning activities. Through anonymous evaluations, participants commented that the week-long sessions were a transformative learning experience and that they gained a much better understanding on how to engage in helpful empathic conversations with students, colleagues, friends and family. The training was also seen as beneficial in building communication skills and relationships across departments, positions and campuses.