Students are learning to support each other as part of first in Canada peer wellness-coaching program
Kiran Ubi is well aware of the stresses of university life. A second-year science student who plans to study neurobiology and medicine, she admits that maintaining healthy habits during her first year was a challenge.
“Stress is kind of inevitable,” she remarks, in conversation at the UBC Centre for Student Involvement and Careers. “Making sure I got enough sleep or that I ate enough, it was really hard at times.”
Today, Ubi is looking forward to helping guide peers through similar challenges, as one of 15 peer wellness coaches trained to offer guidance and support to fellow students. In the first program of its kind in Canada, UBC students who are feeling overwhelmed or in need of some extra support can sign up through Student Services or online to be paired with a coach like Ubi.
After an initial one-on-one meeting, the coach and coachee will develop a wellness plan and have regular follow-ups through an online messaging portal. “There will be opportunities to communicate back and forth between coach and student around how it’s going with goals, certain exercises, or resources that they can engage in,” explains Patty Hambler, associate director with Student Development & Services, who helped to develop this innovative program. Peer wellness coaching, she adds, was designed to fill a gap on campus.
“We have a lot of resources in place for the whole campus community, and we have a lot of services for students who maybe are experiencing a crisis or needing professional support,” says Hambler. The wellness coaching program provides a resource for students who want to be proactive about their health, or who need a bit of help in an area of their wellbeing, she explains. “It’s an early intervention to get them on track, so that they don’t experience further difficulties.”
Ubi says that’s one of the reasons she decided to volunteer with the program. “We have so many resources for academic success on study skills and increasing your grades,” she observes. “But we don’t really have anything on wellness, which I think is a huge, huge part of even academic success—and for success in other parts of your life.”
The fact that most of the coaching takes place online appeals to coach Liam Ross, a third-year science student who hopes to study psychology or psychiatry.
“That opens it up to people who wouldn’t necessarily approach someone for help if they have prolonged face-to-face meetings,” he says. “I’m interested in wellness and mental health, so I thought this would tie really well into my interests. It’s great to be able to help people.”
Because there is still some stigma around mental health, students may find it easier for students to seek out help from a coach rather than a counselor, notes Hambler.
“There’s not a lot of stigma attached to accessing a peer service, especially if it’s a coach,” she says. “It’s perceived as being proactive, and it has a very positive connotation. The coaches are there to facilitate a process that allows their peer to identify their goals and then help them work towards those goals.”
Adds Ubi: “Instead of just giving advice, we learned how to open up the questions, and get them to talk more.”
If a student is clearly struggling, however, the coaches will help refer them to other resources. “We’re hoping to be able to use the coaches as a conduit for getting support for students who need it,” Hambler says. She continues, with emphasis: “It’s okay to ask for help—that’s one of the messages that we’re trying to get across to students.”
The development of the Peer Wellness Coaching program has been supported by a generous donation from alumna Shirley Barnett (BA ’63) and the UBC Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund.