The University of Maryland Health Center is launching a peer-to-peer wellness coaching program this semester for students.
Wellness coaching is a service that “offers support, encouragement, and guidance in reaching wellness goals,” according to the Health Center website.
This service addresses many wellness-related issues, such as stress management, self-care, sleep, time management, loneliness and general wellness needs related to academic success.
Sarah Wilson, the Stress and Mental Wellness Program Coordinator at the University Health Center, helped create this program at the university. She has seen this wellness coaching model used at other BIG-10 universities and thought it would be a valuable mental health and wellness resource for students at UMD.
“We started to explore wellness coaching as an option at the University of Maryland within the last handful of years, exploring ways that we could insert it into our services in a way that really supported the student experience,” Wilson said.
There are six undergraduate student wellness coaches who “have been trained to help college students realize their health and wellness goals and serve as a helping hand to empower students to find their own strengths.”
Stephanie Bautista, a senior behavioral and community health major, and Nick Balmadier, a senior community health major, are two of the wellness coaches and were also integral in creating the program.
Both Bautista and Balmadier had previous roles at the health center, which gave them the experience and knowledge to help Wilson shape the wellness coaching service.
“It kind of just was something that was on the health center’s mind always to do and they just never really had the time nor the people to kind of get this going,” Bautista said. “And so then, Nick and I kind of just decided to be a part of this as Sarah wanted to embark on this journey.”
Bautista believes that entering college can be a huge transition for many students, and talking with a peer about their goals in college and challenges they face may be more beneficial than talking to a therapist for some students.
“I think a lot of times going into college, it's a very difficult time for many students because it's a new chapter within their life,” Bautista said.
Also, talking with a peer mentor instead of an adult or licensed professional may allow students to trust and connect with the person more easily.
“We would have an in with our clients, we are our clients in many ways,” Balmadier said.
The wellness coach is not an expert, and they do not give students the answers to their problems. Instead, they help guide them to a solution, which is a more beneficial process.
“The wellness coach is using motivational interviewing, to help students recognize where they want some of their goals to lead them,” Wilson said.
While they did not plan to launch this program during a pandemic, the timing works out well, since anxiety, stress and other mental health struggles have been worsened in this unprecedented, daunting time.
“Just knowing that there is someone that they can turn to to help them navigate this stress and grief that they might be feeling during the COVID pandemic is particularly helpful,” Wilson said.
In addition to students likely facing more hardships during this time than usual, they also have more time to sit down and think about their futures, Bautista believes.
“I think also with a lot of downtime, people are also taking time to reevaluate their own wellness and what they want their wellness to look like,” Bautista said. “I think it's becoming a very pivotal point for some students to look at their life holistically.”
Due to COVID safety measures, the wellness coaches need to hold their sessions virtually with students, which has both benefits and downfalls.
“What's great about the virtual environment is that it's accessible to almost anyone, especially UMD students,” Balmadier said.
Balmadier believes that some students may be discouraged from participating in in-person services because of the time they need to commit to getting ready and commuting to their appointment, so a virtual session alleviates this concern.
“With the virtual environment it's like you can roll out of bed, and then boom you're on your wellness coaching appointment,” Balmadier said.
However, a virtual appointment does take away some of the connection a student can develop with their wellness coach, since according to Bautista, it may be easier to learn from someone by sitting down with them in-person and talking to them.
Despite any of the challenges, the program will still launch after Thanksgiving break for students’ appointments. The first session of a student’s wellness coaching is an hour and follow-up sessions are 30-45 minutes long. All of the sessions are confidential.
Also, to set up an appointment, students can email Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org. “We’re willing to help anyone where they're at and...also we’re really excited to start seeing people,” Bautista said.