Inside life coaching: a possible solution to a shortage of support services

David Kelly

The programme was established by Deirdre Moloney and Caroline Bowe in the SS&D department. Credit: Alison Clair

A room in Albert College begins to fill with students ranging from first year undergraduates to final year masters.

Filled with multicoloured couches and pillows, the atmosphere in the room is relaxed and easygoing. Here, students are trusted. Here, they have an opportunity to improve themselves, in an initiative organised by DCU’s Student Support and Development (SS&D).

It is the first week of the Pathways to Success programme, and some students are feeling nervous.

“I’ve been here since 2010, doing student support, academic support. For the first few years I would see students on a daily basis, and it would be usually be around reading, and learning, and writing, and study skills,” said Karina Curley, a member of the SS&D and current Pathways to Success mentor on the Glasnevin campus.

“I felt over the years what was missing from those sessions was a way to build confidence, because sometimes students are really good at those skills but they just don’t believe it, or they need reassurance, or suddenly they fail in an assignment and everything falls apart”.

The programme was established by Deirdre Moloney and Caroline Bowe in the SS&D department, after they completed a life coaching course. The skills learned from this course eventually resulted in the Pathways programme, which takes place twice a semester, on both campuses.

The aim of this programme is to give students the tools required to plan out their path to success, by providing the ability to set and achieve goals, and to build mental resilience. There is a wealth of evidence that suggests that achieving goals is biologically related to well-being.

In an age where much of the mainstream discussion regarding universities is characterised by a ‘safe-space’ culture, the DCU SS&D team are taking an opposite approach. Rather than make students less afraid, the goal is to make them braver, or mentally resilient.

The first week of the programme begins with identifying where you are, where you want to go and how you plan on getting there. For a pathway to lead you to success, you must know what success looks like. The group takes turns defining success, until it arrives at a well-rounded definition.

“I decided to try this programme as I had fallen into a sort of rut where I found it hard to motivate myself to attend classes and perform to the best of my ability, I felt like I had lost sight of why I was in DCU and my potential to add to society and to further my own education and life,” explained Niall Dagg, a second year computer applications student.

The next exercise is called ‘The Wheel of Life’. The wheel contains eight aspects of life ranging from family, to friends, to finance, to fun. Everyone marks each section of the wheel out of 10, therefore identifying what’s going right, and what’s not.

This allows students to figure out where in life they need to improve. Week one ends with all students deciding upon actions to take achieve these improvements. It’s important that these goals are achievable, like the adage; ‘the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’.

“I kind of took a notion this year to try and sort myself out a bit better. I have been trying to budget and also get into the habit of doing things better, time management, [getting out of] bed earlier and such, so I thought that this programme would assist me in that. I was hoping to find motivation to work better on my college work,” said Colin Gorman, another second-year computer applications student.

Week two begins with a review of these small actions. Students exchange stories, explaining how they followed through, or how they stumbled. The atmosphere is much more relaxed this time around, with more open discussion across courses and levels.

“I am enjoying the program. Honestly, I initially felt somewhat intimidated by the others who are very vocal, but the second day felt more comfortable,” said Gorman.

Now that the group knows where the path ends, Curley asks us to identify some of the hurdles that may lie on the way. Guilt, fear, friends, relatives, pessimists and society are the main obstacles that are defined, and the different tables attempts to brainstorm solutions.

One table explains how they feel that guilt is something of a self-made obstacle and something that tends to wither as a person grows older. One mature student at another table counters this point, and laments that guilt has only grown the more people have become dependant on her.

The other group pauses in thought. This is the beauty of the group dynamic. Students from all walks of life, and at all stages of life, come together to try and solve a common problem; falling short of the mark. These diverse individuals mesh together to form a comprehensive whole, capable of unique thought and expression.

“I was very nervous starting the programme as it was a large group but over the few weeks, I feel much more comfortable expressing my thoughts and opinions with the group and I enjoy how it is broken down as it makes the programme feel much more manageable and it’s goals much more achievable,” said Dagg.

The second stage of week two involves setting ‘SMART Goals’. These goals are specific, measurable, action-based, realistic and time-based. Conceptualising a goal like these allows for tangible achievement. Broad, vague goals are essentially useless, as the individual reaps little to no benefit during the process.

“I have tried my upmost to implement the programme teachings into my own life such as contemplating what my own success means and how to improve my own wheel of life, most importantly my mental and physical health which can seem daunting at first but through the programme has become much more manageable,” added Dagg.

Gorman noted that he hopes to incorporate some of the skills more so as the weeks progress.

“I’ve reflected on the classes and have tried to work on my goals and such… but I was rather busy last week and have already done more this week, so hopefully with each week I’ll benefit more and more,” he concluded.

The outcome of week two is to become an agent in your life, as opposed to an observer. If your life is a story, why not be the narrator? The pathway to success would appear long and arduous, however this programme has a lot of skills on offer to those who are willing to learn.

David Kelly

Image credit: Alison Clair