A Place to Talk (APTT)

I’m in APTT, and I am a peer listener. I get asked a lot of times to explain what exactly that means, and I’m always happy to share the wonderful idea behind APTT. APTT is “A Place To Talk,” a confidential peer listening group affiliated with the JHU Counseling Center and founded in 1984. Our affiliation with the Counseling Center also means that although our primary purpose is to provide a confidential peer listening service, our secondary goal is to create more awareness and positive attitude toward taking care of one’s mental health. Our philosophy with listening is not to give advice, not be patronizing, and not be judgmental. We don’t call ourselves counselors; we call ourselves listeners. We’re not here to quantify or diagnose. We’re here to listen, to care, and to support.

Jose Medina, our training director, Miliana, and Nusaiba all dressed up for selections

All members of APTT are undergraduates, trained in Listening Skills and Crisis Intervention. Together, we run a room in the AMR I lobby that is designated as a safe place to bring any of your concerns or musings. There you can have someone listen confidentially and respond to you without offering judgement, or advice. The focus is on you and your thoughts. We help people who come through our doors by offering an outlet for issues that may be difficult to bring to friends or might not require the help of therapist. We’re a source of empathetic listening, good conversation, board games, candy, nail polish, arts and crafts, and general stress relief. No matter how trivial or serious the matter, we’re here to listen, to offer tissues, and to help lighten your mental load. APTT exists to help improve the emotional and mental health of the Hopkins community. In that regard, being an APTTer is not just a job, but a way of life.

I first heard of A Place to Talk during my freshman year, at the fall Student Activities Fair.  APTT spoke to me because I liked listening to people but didn’t always know what to say back. I wanted to be more helpful to the people around me, and help people feel better about whatever was on their mind. Bombarded with flyers and ads for a multitude of student groups and daunted by the thought of four hour training sessions every Wednesday night, I moved on from the table. It wasn’t until sophomore year that I sat myself down to fill out the application, and it was one of my best decisions at Johns Hopkins. After a year of balancing classes and a variety of clubs (academic, service, and other), I still hadn’t found something that captivated me –a cause, a good group of people, a sense of community. I found it all in APTT.


Our semester starts with a retreat, to welcome everyone back from break, introduce new graduates of the training class, and prepare for the upcoming semester, the biggest event of which is APTT selections. The selection process is a week-long effort requiring many APTT members to volunteer in order to give each application the attention it deserves. Anyone can apply, including freshman, although for this year, we are asking that freshman wait until their second semester before applying. The reasoning is, since college is such a transformative part of one’s life, the waiting period of one semester would help one to get a more solid footing on campus before starting APTT training, which is arguably an even more transformative process. All applicants are interviewed and presented with a roleplay to gauge not just their listening skills, but their empathy, and their willingness to learn. Those who do well are called in for a second round of roleplay, on a more serious subject. My interviewers made sure to emphasize that they didn’t expect us to know the skills they would teach yet, so I really shouldn’t be worried. When I try and remember what things I said to make it through, I really don’t remember. I just know I relied on gut instinct and nervous energy, and maybe an excess of self-awareness. My advice to prospective applicants is to be genuine, to treat the roleplay seriously, and to never be afraid of applying twice.

After selections, the new training class is chosen and divided into small groups of trainers and trainees. The training we go through also covers listening skills in a roleplay format, so that by the end of it, each small group is a tight knit family. Though I was originally scared off of joining by the time commitment, I found that the hours flew by, and I looked forward to each training –they were the highlight to every week. Before I knew it, I graduated from the program with a certificate in Listening Skills and Crisis Intervention. In one semester, I had come so far. My training semester was an emotional time for me, but one with a lot of personal growth. I feel it’s the same for the whole training class, since the experience is so unique, intensive, and ultimately rewarding. To celebrate our graduation, the group holds a trainee dinner where current members can meet us and we can all get acquainted.

Trainee Dinner, Spring 2011, from left to right: Nusaiba with the new graduates, Tricia, Laila, and Arlynne

It’s hard describe training in a way that does it justice. It has had a profound effect on me and how I view friendships, and all social exchanges. The skills you learn in training easily carry over to all social interactions, and the training makes you more aware of some of the flaws in so many rushed conversations with class mates. For instance: “I have so much work to do. I have my orgo lab practical this week and an essay,” often gets the response, “That sucks. My week is even worse. I have two midterms and a thirty-minute presentation to do,” and then both parties move on. It’s a cold reply that shuts off any attempt to hit at deeper meanings and larger concerns. A moment of consideration and a well-worded question could reveal if the first student was frightened of failing, frightened of tanking their GPA, or confused about if medical school was even what they wanted to do. All it takes for someone’s day to be improved is a moment of consideration. Think about everything that you are worrying about now. Think about the exams, the friend who isn’t speaking to you for some reason, the doubts about your own goals or abilities, and then think about the billions of people with similar troubles and more ––eating disorders, drug addiction, sexual harassment, depression, etc. Everyone has weight on their shoulders, has baggage, has something they are working through. I’m not saying that everyone is crippled by the weight, only that someone’s baggage is nothing to sniff at. That’s all. It’s the first step to forming deeper connections, having more meaningful relations, and embracing a more empathetic way of life. This is just a taste of all the things I have learned through training, and I am still learning.

We begin sitting shifts the first semester after training. People sit shifts in pairs, offering candy and light conversation to those passing in and out of the AMR I MPR, or shutting the door when someone comes in with a more serious concern. If someone walked out feeling lighter, happier, better than when they walked in, I was content. By the end of the semester, I was certain that APTT was providing an important outlet for Hopkins students. (And if there was less traffic on a certain night, I had my fantastic shift partner there to talk to and listen to.)

Besides sitting shifts in the room, APTT holds campus-wide events, such as coffee on the breezeway during finals, or our most well known event: Relax Fair, on the last day of school every year. Last year we partnered with PEEPs to promote health and wellness as well as having a good time. I could go on and on about why you should stop in to talk to us, or why you should join the APTT family, but hopefully you can come see for yourself.

Old and New Co-Directors at the Trainee Dinner, from left to right: Kevin Cochran, Alyssa Hawn, Jane Syh, and Dave Huang

The graduating directors: Dave, Alyssa, and Jose, the training director, at Recess on the Beach

Alyssa, my trainer, with Jane and I at Recess on the Beach. We were both two of many APTT members that Alyssa trained.

My name is Angela Hu, and I am a peer listener. This year, I am also proud to serve as APTT’s Public Relations Co-Chair. If you’re interested in joining or learning more about us, feel free to visit our website at www.jhu.edu/aptt, or e-mail us at messaging.aptt@gmail.com. You can also contact me directly at ms.angela.hu@gmail.com.