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Higher Education
Mental Health & Wellness
Coaching Methodology
Student Support
June 16, 2022

Coaching and counseling make student well-being their priority – but support it in different ways

Understanding student support roles: A three-part explainer series

The roles of a student success coach and a counselor are aligned in some aspects of their job descriptions. Professionals in both roles address issues affecting student wellness, support student growth and development, and help students as they work toward their desired personal, academic and career goals. Yet in order to understand how a coach and a counselor can enhance each other’s efforts on behalf of students, it’s important to understand how their roles differ. Here, in the final piece of our three-part series exploring similar-but-not-the-same roles within higher education, we look at how “counseling” differs from “coaching.”

What is counseling?

Generally speaking, counseling professionals work with individuals on issues of mental health, wellness, personal growth and development. They have been specifically trained and have to be licensed for this type of work. There are several different types of counselors, including family therapists and psychologists, but for the purpose of the education setting, we are focusing on institution mental health counselors. College and university mental health counseling centers typically offer such services as assessment and diagnosis of mental health disorders, treatment for anxiety and depression, therapy sessions (group or individual, online or in-person) and prevention programs. Taking the student's history and feelings into account as part of their assessment, counselors typically assume that the person seeking the counseling needs help healing or recovering from something.

Mental health issues in higher education settings are on the rise. As a growing number of students struggle with anxiety, depression, uncertainty, and any number of life stressors – especially during the uncharted pandemic and post-pandemic times of late – they have been increasingly seeking out mental health resources, on campus or online, for assistance. Now more than ever, counseling is a critical student support role.

What is coaching?

Creating an individually tailored approach to each student’s needs, student success coaching refers to a proactive, collaborative relationship in which a coach works one-on-one with a student to facilitate improvement in areas such as time management, goal setting, and addressing any barriers the student faces to their short- and long-term success. InsideTrack coaching follows research-proven methodology that includes holistic assessment of potential risk factors and development of specific cognitive and noncognitive skills. Designed to support institutional goals as well as student success, coaches view each student holistically and balance meeting the immediate needs of students with helping them problem-solve – making sure students know how to find and use various institutional resources.

Similar to counselors, coaches also help nurture long-term personal growth and development through small, meaningful changes and the integration of new strategies, habits and mindsets into learners’ lives. Coaching sessions may touch on personal aspects of a student’s life – especially those that are impeding the student’s overall well-being and ability to succeed – but coaching comes from a different vantage point than counseling in that the focus is not just on feelings and emotions, or how your past relates to how you feel today. Coaches will not delve deeply into mental health issues or act as a counseling substitute. In fact, coaches are specifically trained when to suggest counseling services and have a list of appropriate resources to share.

For students facing more serious challenges, such as mental health issues, InsideTrack coaches have the unique advantage of being able to offer support through their Crisis Support Services (CSS) team. These specially trained InsideTrack team members stand at the ready to step in when situations escalate beyond the normal parameters of coaching services, adding another level of support for students needing emergency support.

One scenario, two approaches

Let’s say a student is having issues focusing on their school work and their recent grades have begun to suffer. The student shares that they’re having problems at home. How might counseling and coaching differ in communicating with the student?

The counselor would spend time exploring the student's emotional state and the reasons for the problems at home. Using empathy and relational skills, the counselor might ask the student about what happened and are they upset about a specific incident or conversation. The counselor tries to understand the student and share insight into what is causing the problems.

The coach focuses on moving the student forward and creating concrete steps to get the student back on track. The coach might have the student brainstorm ideas for raising their grades — things like working with a tutor, asking the professors for help, seeing if there are options for re-doing subpar work or available extra credit opportunities. If the student shared that their issue goes beyond typical family dynamics and includes anxiety or depression, the coach could refer them to a counseling center or collaborate with them on a plan to get professional help. The coach could also work with the student on managing commitments, allowing the student to find time in their schedule to see a counselor.

A powerful team

Counselors and coaches each serve a highly important role in the lives of students they work with, helping them – in their own way – learn tools and strategies that will help them overcome obstacles, grow and develop, and get or stay on track to succeed. The work of counselors and coaches is highly complementary and not interchangeable. Students who are struggling with mental health and academic challenges can benefit from working with both coaches and counselors.

If you missed the first two parts of our series, be sure and check out Coaching vs. Advising and Coaching vs. Mentoring to learn more about how coaching compares and contrasts with other student support roles.

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