“There are two kinds of people in the world: those who have had therapy, and those who need it.” I’m not exactly sure who first said this (my dad attributes it to my late grandfather), but that quote has become central part of how I live my life. It’s a guiding statement that informs how I see humanity, and I try to remind myself of it as much as possible. It’s even my Instagram bio. That quote is also why I chose to join Penn Benjamins, a peer–to–peer counseling group.
Our organization motto is much simpler than that quote: “Here for you.” That’s really what we are and what we do. We’re not certified psychologists, and we have no credentials to make any kind of professional diagnoses or recommend treatments; we’re just here for you to have someone to talk to, because we all need it. While we’re technically overseen by CAPS, we operate independently on campus, allowing us to talk confidentially with students and refer them to Penn resources that can help them out.
When I came to campus as a freshman last year, it didn’t take long for me to find out about Penn's strange, overwhelming phenomenon: despite our intensely competitive atmosphere, the students around me consistently acted like they were fine. Few people seemed willing to show any vulnerability. I made an effort early on to fight this in my own way, by light–heartedly (and I hope endearingly) telling my friends when I would feel stressed and overwhelmed by my new college experience. I saw signs around the Quad for Penn Benjamins and knew instantly I wanted to be one. After I was accepted, I attended weekly training sessions for the duration of the semester in order to prepare to begin counseling this fall with my new training class.
We all know Penn isn't easy. And while many of us openly talk about how we should do more for mental health on campus, we can find ourselves lamenting the Penn Face while struggling to keep ours on. The stigma surrounding mental health is real. Simply making an appointment at CAPS and filling out the paperwork can be intimidating, and so Penn Benjamins strives to provide comfortable, accessible, anonymous and judgement–free conversation — complete with snacks and coffee.
Joining the organization was one of the best decisions I have made so far at Penn. Everyone is compassionate and is genuinely interested in the well–being of others. Throughout the semester, we learned different skills to guide our future peer–to–peer interactions successfully and engaged with the many other campus resources we refer out to in our counseling. While we learned how to be a support system to the Penn community, our training class became support group to each other. We would end our sessions with a round of “Worlds”, in whicheveryone would go around and share what is happening in their world.
One night during Worlds, I shared some issues I was having about securing housing for the following year. After I got home, I received a Facebook message from the training facilitator asking if I wanted to get coffee to talk more about it. The kindness and concern for my well being that she showed me made me realize what a great choice I had made. These were the kind of the people I wanted to be around, and this was the kind of person I wanted to be.
Just from that experience, I learned that everyone’s daily world is different, and we never know what is going on in another person’s world unless they share. This is why simply being a good listener can make a huge difference, and that is best skill I have learned as a Penn Benjamin. There is so much power in giving a person your undivided attention, actively listening to everything they say and letting them know you hear them. Life at Penn is very hectic, and we get so wrapped up in our own lives that it can be difficult to tell when a friend or classmate may be in need. Slowing down, checking in and listening makes a difference. When I first joined, I thought I was going to learn how to give good advice, but that’s not always what is needed. Usually, the simple act of listening can do worlds of good.
As Penn students, we need to be heard. In order to make it through these four years, we need to feel able to speak up for ourselves and know that someone is there to listen. No matter the concern, big or small, Penn Benjamins works to bring personal wellness to our campus. We are available Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday in the Harnwell First Floor Library, and Wednesday and Thursday in the Chaplain’s Office, all from 8-11 PM. No appointments are necessary.
Everyone experiences life differently, and no one goes through it completely unscathed. Therapy can take on many different forms. Sometimes it’s making weekly visits to CAPS, but sometimes it’s a sympathetic ear with a hot cup of coffee just wanting to check in and see what’s going on in your world. Indeed, there’s something quite therapeutic just knowing that someone in this hectic world is here for you.