Approaching coaching: Should schools be providing psychological coaching to improve student well-being?

BEn M feature photo
Credit: unsplash, @Jamie, 452

As a precursor to the University’s Mental Health and Wellbeing week (November 12th – 16th, 2018), Dr Ben Marder from the Business School, highlights an innovative pilot aimed at providing students with one-to-one psychological coaching sessions…

I have just started my second year as Head of Year 4 within the Business School. This year, as I did last year, during the ‘welcome back’ lecture I asked the room of around 200 students how they felt now that they were in the final year via a digital audience participation tool. Once again, there was a clear, overarching negative theme to their responses, including the words ‘stressed’, ‘anxious’, ‘terrified’, ‘lost’, and ‘terrible’. Thankfully, this year, I was very happy to announce that the school would be providing one-to-one psychological coaching sessions as part of a pilot scheme. Nearly five weeks into term, our feedback has been so positive that I feel it is crucial to share this with colleagues.

So far, our coach (Caroline Hedler, who’s bio is below) has been fully booked with 50 sessions already this term. Given these sessions are only available to 4th year students, the current sign-ups alone represent a sizable proportion of the entire cohort. Electronic feedback from the sessions showed that all students felt happier after the session than before, as shown in a few student quotes below:

I really appreciated the fact that I could have an open and honest chat about my strengths and needs without trying to impress the person I am speaking to, or trying to sell myself as a candidate. After speaking to her for 45 minutes, although we didn’t really accomplish too much, I definitely felt more open and had some ideas on how I should be thinking. I felt more motivated and at ease after this session.

 The coach listened super carefully and not judgemental at all, and she gave practical advice how to improve.

She made me feel happier about myself. I never felt rushed and she was never intrusive. She asked questions in a manner which just made me stop and think about it myself and reply if I felt comfortable, like a gentle nudge.

So who are psychological coaches? They are specialists in well-being and in understanding issues that underpin lack of motivation/direction and provide steps to overcome this. In other words, they help build new habits to overcome procrastination and cope with stress, provide emotional support, explore goals, personal strengths and ambitions, and provide methods/tools/exercises for people to achieve their potential. Coaching is used widely in industry for companies to get the most out of their employees. Within a university context, coaching services should be viewed, firstly, to complement existing centralised counselling services provided by the university. They may reduce the burden on these resources, which may be more suited to responding to severe issues. Secondly, it supports academic personal tutors in the pastoral care of students.

Caroline Hedler, our coach, has found the sessions with students very positive, saying that:

It is a real pleasure to help students navigate what is no doubt a really stressful year, with University work, career ambitions and their social lives. It really is warming to see students leave the session a little happier and more motivated than when they came in.

Based on our experience so far with our in-house psychological coach, I sincerely hope that the pilot continues to become a permanent provision and wholeheartedly recommend colleagues to consider providing a similar service, to support our students. Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you would like to hear more about the pilot.

Ben Marder

Ben is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Edinburgh Business school. He is head of year four and course organisation for undergraduate dissertations. Ben’s research expertise is in social media and has published in using technology as a support mechanism.

Caroline Hedler

Caroline Hedler is a Psychological Coach specialising in an education context. Caroline has a Bachelors degree in Psychological Coaching, Cognitive Neuroscience and Positive Psychology.

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