Coaching has become incredibly trendy over the last few years. Most anyone we look up to either has worked with a coach in the past, or is doing so presently. Whether it is career coaching, academic coaching, or athletic coaching, students on campuses across the nation have experienced the benefits of coaching at some point or another in their academic career. These benefits include everything from improved study skills and test performance (academic coaching) to successful job searches and graduate school admission (career coaching) to competitive athletic performance and physical health (athletic coaching).
Wellness Coaching is new to the landscape of well-being interventions at colleges and universities. Like other forms of coaching, wellness coaching uses a client-centered approach to facilitate and empower the client to achieve self-determined goals related to their holistic well-being. Wellness coaching allows clients to identify and harness internal strengths and external resources to facilitate meaningful, sustainable lifestyle changes that improve holistic health and well-being outcomes. With proven efficacy amongst clients of all ages, including college students, at managing stress, anxiety, sleep, academic performance, physical health, and much more, wellness coaching has become a staple best practice amongst health and wellness professionals around the country.
As a Certified Health and Wellness Coach, I started this work wondering how college students of color, or students from other underrepresented or marginalized backgrounds, would respond to this intervention. I wondered if my coaching experience would be contingent upon shared identities between my students and me. For example, I identify as a Black, cisgender female. Each of those identities (as well as many other identities and personal experiences that shape the way I show up in spaces personally and professionally) interact with my environment every day. They are identities that people experience at first glance, before I even open my mouth to engage with them. That said, I wondered if I would only be able to effectively coach a student who also identified as a Black, cisgender female. However, the more I tuned into the certification training and began my work coaching students, the more I realized that wellness coaching could not be a more perfect intervention for students from underrepresented backgrounds (especially those at predominately white institutions). I also realized that it was my coaching presence that would ultimately shape my impact and effectiveness as a coach.
Coaching, when done properly, provides clients with the space to share and own their story from the start of the process; challenging them to explore the totality of who they are and how they can own more of their lived experience and future outcomes despite the challenges and barriers they may face. Empathetic listening, understanding, affirmation, and validation are cornerstones of effective coaching practice, and account for much of the success in coaching. In coaching, we believe our clients are naturally creative, whole, and resourceful; thus, coaching helps students find their voice and explore their capacity to be vulnerable, without fear of judgement or an unwelcomed reframe of their experience into one that neatly fits in with societal norms and standards. Students in coaching set their own goals, their own agenda, their own action steps, and involve input and suggestions from their coach only when solicited—and when solicited, the coach provides the advice after a full self-exploration process to locate the answers within the client themselves.
Another major characteristic of coaching is accountability. Many connotations of accountability are negative, especially given the social and political landscape in which live. If you are like me, the term accountability makes your skin tingle a little bit. And if you share my identity of being a person from an underrepresented or marginalized background, then that tingle on your skin can very quickly turn to a bit of sweat on your brow, or extra heart palpitations in certain contexts. Accountability makes me think of being held responsible for expectations or standards that have been preset for me; it often feels synonymous to punishment, and can be yet another way that injustice manifests itself in modern society. In coaching, we work hard to reframe the connotation of the accountability to be something that the client gets to dictate and drive. Moreover students in coaching are held accountable to standards and goals they set for themselves, versus those forced upon them by an outside (albeit sometimes well-meaning) entity. In my experience coaching students, this distinction makes a world of difference and provides students with a great alternate experience when considering the word ‘accountability’.
At my current institution, the coaching program I oversee has several coaches (full-time, part-time, and volunteers) from an array of backgrounds working to support our students from a coaching capacity. We collect feedback from our students before their initial session, after their initial session, and after they complete their coaching cycle. Over 500 students signed up to work with one of our coaches since our Spring 2017 pilot implementation, and we have had roughly a 56% response rate to our initial coaching survey. 100% of students who completed the survey indicate that they would refer the resource to their friends and peers on campus, regardless of the coach with whom they were working. These students represented a wide array of identities, and this, to me, suggests that regardless of the client’s or the coach’s identities, there still exists the capacity for a student to experience and recognize the benefits of having the space to explore, reflect, ideate, and make meaning of their ability to improve their health outcomes and orient themselves toward improved holistic wellness.
Whether in a one-on-one or a group capacity, coaching allows those involved to establish expectations and norms that help create the psychological safety necessary for the magic of coaching to occur. The self-management skills students tap into and hone through coaching help to propel them beyond the point of merely surviving life in college, and challenges them to identify what thriving can look like for them. Using their vision of thriving, students tap into their motivation in a meaningful way and blossom into the most resilient, gritty, holistically well person they can possibly be in that moment and beyond.
Angelica “Angie” Harris, M.A., CWHC
Assistant Director, Success and Wellness Coaching
University of South Florida
Originally a native of Buffalo, NY, Angelica “Angie” Harris (She, Her, Hers) is a Certified Health and Wellness Coach and the current Assistant Director of Success and Wellness Coaching at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL. Angie received her B.A. in Sociology from The George Washington University, her M.A. in Higher Education Administration from the University of Maryland College Park, and is working on a second M.A. in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling at the University of South Florida. Beginning August 8th, she will transition into serving as the Assistant Director for Wellness at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC. Angie is passionate about using her skillset to facilitate reflection, empowerment, and action with her students and clients, as well as using her experience creating and building a successful and thriving coaching program at USF to help other colleges and universities do the same. For more information about Angie, please connect with her on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/AngieMarieHarris or email her: CoachingWithAngie@gmail.com.