Wellness Coaching: Fostering Holistic Wellness for the Individual

Wellness Coach

From January 2019

By Kate Blankinship

Health Promotion and Wellness (HPW) launched a new program this year geared toward helping students to set a wellness vision for themselves and achieve it. Wellness Coaching is a free service that is tailored to individual students and provides support for navigating transitions and overcoming challenges. 

When HPW Director Julie Edwards started at the University of Chicago four years ago, she began thinking about the role that Wellness Coaching could play. Edwards thought the program “would be of great benefit because students are very academically driven and don’t always take the time to reflect upon what might be important and how they can take care of themselves from a holistic state of wellbeing.”

Wellness Coaching became a reality this year and is led by Health Educator Layla Matariyeh. Although Matariyeh did not know much about Wellness Coaching before she went through the training program Wellcoaches, she was interested in the concept. Similar to Edwards, Matariyeh “thought it would be great to offer it here,” she said. “It’s a way for students to realize what their strengths are and utilize those strengths to create goals that are meaningful to them.”

Students who are interested in Wellness Coaching first complete two surveys: the VIA survey, which evaluates students’ strengths, and a wellbeing assessment that Matariyeh uses to prepare for their Coaching session. Matariyeh uses the first hour-and-a-half session to discuss students’ strengths and how they can use those strengths to create a wellness vision. 

A wellness vision, Matariyeh said, is a “statement of who they are or what life-promoting behaviors they would like to set for themselves for their future. It’s a statement of what they want, rather than what they don’t want.” Because a vision is forward-thinking, students also write it in the present as if it has already happened.

It’s important that students set their own visions, Edwards said, and determine what they would like to focus on within the Facets of Wellness framework—the model HPW uses that promotes emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, physical, social, and spiritual wellness. Their vision, for instance, may be that they want to be more self-confident, develop better study skills, or work on their body image. 

Matariyeh uses various tools to help motivate students and empower them to develop their vision and then set goals for themselves. “As we transition into goal setting, students are pumped, they’re motivated, they’re ready to take charge,” Matariyeh said. 

“The beauty of the program is that students can meet with HPW as frequently as they would like,” Edwards said. “It’s not a limited number of sessions, and we do not dictate. It’s up to the student to say whether they want to meet weekly, monthly, or quarterly.” 

Students often come for follow-up appointments because they are looking for accountability, Matariyeh said. “Any ongoing session after the first is really just to touch base on where they are at in relation to their wellness vision,” she added. 

During these informal meetings, students may make modifications to their goals if desired or change their plan to achieve their goals. Matariyeh will also ask students where they are on a scale from one to ten in reaching their wellness visions to see how they are progressing. 

“I will not be telling you what to do—students come up with [their goals] themselves” Matariyeh said.  And Wellness Coaching shouldn’t be confused with counseling. However, Matariyeh frequently provides feedback or her insights and advice if the student is looking for help in achieving their vision.

Often, students turn to other wellness programs that HPW offers to help them achieve their visions. Many students incorporate mindfulness into their goals and participate in programs like Mindfulness Meditation or Refresh Sleep,or they take advantage of the Better Together program to become more socially connected to their peers. Others opt to relax in HPW’s WellNest, which is located in the HPW office and has sunlamps, massage chairs, healthy snacks, sexual health supplies, diffusers, and lounge chairs. With each of their programs, HPW aims to communicate to students that “it is okay to take care of yourself,” Edwards said. 

“We always use the analogy of the oxygen mask: You have to put it on yourself first before you can help other people,” she said. “The same holds true for taking care of ourselves. If we continually neglect ourselves, it will eventually impact us in all different areas—socially, professionally, and academically.” 

“I hear a lot with the students who I see that they feel guilty when they take ten minutes to just sit on their bed and relax,” added Matariyeh. “They just feel the need to occupy that time with studying or anything related to their academics. But sometimes they don’t realize that that time is needed. I always stress the importance of finding balance within each one of the Seven Facets, and that’s really important to maintain a healthy, holistic lifestyle.” 

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