Mimi Lusli, Ruth M. H. Peters, Marjolein B. M. Zweekhorst, Wim H. Van Brakel, Francisia S. S. E. Seda, Joske F. G. Bunders, & Irwanto
Objective: Counselling has been identified as a promising strategy to reduce stigma. Lay and peer counsellors have provided counselling in various fields, but this has not yet been studied in the field of leprosy. The Stigma Assessment and Reduction of Impact (SARI) project in Cirebon District, Indonesia took up this endeavor. This paper describes the initial experiences based on the perspectives of the lay and peer counsellors and aims to provide lessons learnt for future initiatives. Methods: The selection of lay and peer counsellors was based upon pre-defined criteria such as completed junior high school and level of confidence. This study draws on the notes of seven monitoring and evaluation meetings and 21 group discussions the main researcher facilitated with the lay and peer counsellors and the notes written by the lay and peer counsellors on the sessions with their clients. Results: In total, 198 people affected by leprosy were offered counselling by the 11 lay and 12 peer counsellors; 145 accepted this offer. The other 53 either did not 2need counselling or did not want to participate for example due to worries about disclosure. Effective communication skills such as listening and asking effective questions were important, but also difficult to acquire for the lay and peer counsellors. Sharing personal experiences was highly appreciated by clients and stimulated a deepened reflection. Conclusion: Challenges related to concealment and effective skills exist, but some people affected by leprosy and others can become effective counsellors making it at the outset a challenging but nevertheless promising intervention.