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Wellness at Penn holds counseling services at 3624 Market Street.

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

Wellness at Penn launched a new service called Wellness Coaching this month, providing students with one-on-one support from a Peer Wellness Coach designed to enhance holistic wellbeing.

Wellness Coaching will offer support, resources, and accountability in the “8 Domains of Wellness” — which include physical health, emotional health, time management, relationships, navigating transitions, finances, career, and spirituality, according to the Wellness at Penn website. Students can sign up for individualized sessions geared toward setting wellness goals and creating action plans to realize them. 

Peer Wellness Coaches consist of both undergraduate students and graduate students, according to Wellness at Penn. While a typical coaching relationship lasts five to six sessions, students have the option to meet with the same coach every time or speak with another peer coach.

Wellness at Penn’s Wellness Coaching Manager Zihui Lu told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the target population for wellness coaching falls between students who are doing “totally fine” and students seeking counseling services for mental health. 

“There is a third group of students in the middle, who are dealing with some stress related to their academics or their life … but it’s not that serious that they need clinical support at the counseling center,” Lu said.

Wellness at Penn Director of Communications Mary Kate Coghlan said that this new service will help make Wellness at Penn more accessible to students and destigmatize seeking help.

“It really helps those students who are in between — to bridge that gap that they may be experiencing due to either a stigma to seeking care or not feeling like they need care on a clinical level,” Coghlan said.

Peer Wellness Coach and School of Nursing graduate student David Clark said that peer coaches are meant to empower students to figure out action plans that can help them work toward their wellness goals, whether related to daily routines, career trajectories, or academic plans. 

“I think coaching could be for anyone. Everyone has goals, whether they’re conscious or not," Clark said. "It can be helpful just to take the time to sit back and have someone to talk to you to learn and decide for yourself what you really want to accomplish."

Lu also emphasized the role of the coaches in holding students accountable. At the end of each session, the Peer Wellness Coach will help the student set action items based on what was discussed during the session — and at the next session, the coach will check in with the student about their progress.

While wellness coaching is new to Penn, many peer institutions currently have similar programs in place, including Columbia University, Cornell University, and Stanford University.

The research for developing the program at Penn began in April 2023 with inspiration from other universities’ programs, according to Lu. Applications to be a Peer Wellness Coach opened to all Penn students in September, receiving almost 80 applications.

Lu said that the selection committee sought “students who show that they have an interest in mental health, promoting wellness in the university, and they want to model wellness themselves.” 

Five students from diverse backgrounds and with different educational levels — ranging from an undergraduate sophomore to a Wharton MBA student — were hired and trained as peer wellness coaches, meeting for two hours every week to learn different aspects of coaching by simulating real-life scenarios. 

“We coach each other and record it, getting feedback along the way and some real practice before seeing students,” Clark said.

Coaching sessions are arranged after completion of the intake form on Wellness at Penn’s website. Students’ first sessions will take place in-person, with opportunities for following sessions to take place either in-person or virtually.