How Coaching Helps Young People to Develop Wellbeing and Resilience

Senior Mental Health & Wellbeing Consultant - Liz Robson-Kelly | Worth-it

Liz Robson-Kelly
Educator, Positive & Organisational Psychologist
CEO & Founder of Worth-it CIC

January 2021

Mental health problems in young people are increasing at a rapid rate. Sadly, there has been a sharp rise in mental health problems in young people recently due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meaning schools and organisations are left seeking effective approaches to help the young people they work with and support develop resilience and wellbeing.

At the same time that mental health problems are increasing, the current methods of prevention through risk reduction have not reduced the burden of mental illness. A possible opportunity to make a real difference to young people’s mental health is through the promotion and protection of mental wellbeing through increasing positive mental health and protection against loss (1).

This demonstrates there is an urgent need to provide accessible and appropriate targeted interventions that protect and develop mental wellbeing of young people to prevent the onset of more serious and lasting mental health problems. Our work and research(2) suggest that coaching for young people provides an opportunity to provide accessible targeted support that promotes positive mental health, wellbeing and resilience and protect against loss. 

What is Coaching?

Coaching is a personalised, usually, one-to-one intervention. The coach will work closely with the young person to support them to set their own aims and objectives for their programme of coaching. These goals can be performance led, such as to improve academic achievement or learning or personal goals, such as to feel happier, more confident, or less stressed, or relationship lead such as to make more friends or to join in with groups more. The coach’s role is to support the motivation and empowerment of the young person through the development of self-awareness, self-regulation and responsibility that enables them to achieve their goals.

Our approach to coaching young people to develop wellbeing and resilience to prevent mental health problems integrates Positive Psychology with Coaching Psychology. Both Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology (Positive Psychology Coaching) provide the evidence base underpinning our skills, tools and strategies that support young people develop wellbeing and resilience and help prevent the development of more serious mental health problems.

What is Positive Psychology Coaching?

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing. Positive psychology focuses on improving and promoting mental wellbeing rather than focusing on the causes and impacts of mental illness.  In addition to this, Coaching Psychology has been shown to improve the mental wellbeing of adolescents(3, 4).  For this reason, Coaching Psychology is also recognised as an application of Positive Psychology. 

When integrated, these two approaches become Positive Psychology Coaching. And in doing so coaching provides an accessible and effective method of application of Positive Psychology strategies for wellbeing. The process of coaching enables these strategies to be more effective through continued application in the coaching sessions. In short, they amplify and enhance each other. 

How does Positive Psychology Coaching help young people?

By utilising Positive Psychology Coaching we help young people develop personal resources, develop interpersonal skills and manage emotions. Through the coaching process, the young person increases their awareness of how they think, feel and behave.

This helps develop the young peoples’ ability to manage and deal with situations they find challenging. The process of coaching enables them to develop a range of essential resources for resilience and wellbeing.

Our Positive Psychology Coaching approach enables young people to develop control over their thoughts, feelings, and behaviour, which results in increased confidence, self-worth, resilience and improvements to mental wellbeing. This cultivates self-regulation an essential component of resilience. 

As a result of coaching, young people report feeling, happier, calmer and less stressed. This diagram I developed explains this coaching process in more detail.

What are the skills young people learn through Coaching?

The wellbeing skills and resilience strategies young people develop through positive psychology coaching help them learn to apply strategies from three broad interrelated categories. These are:

  • Interpersonal and relationship – skills and strategies that develop positive relationships and the skills to make and maintain them. This can include communication skills, friendship and teamwork skills. 
  • Self and emotional awarenessstrategies that develop self-knowledge, self-acceptance, self-esteem and positive self-image. These are combined with strategies that develop an understanding of all emotions and how to express and experience emotions in helpful and healthy ways.
  • Thinking – skills and strategies that encourage dealing with challenges, action planning, optimistic thinking and the ability to be resilient. Our approaches allow young people to take responsibility and ownership for their thinking and behaviour and how this leads to enhanced wellbeing and resilience.

Interested in becoming a Coach?

Find out more about our Worth-it Coach Training.

What does the coach do when working with a young person?

The coach will manage the process of a series of individual coaching sessions. Sessions usually last between 45-60 minutes and a service can range from between 4 to 10 sessions. We recommend 5 sessions as a minimum, but it has been shown that even one coaching session can make a difference to young people. The coach will manage this process and arrange the sessions with the young person and the people supporting them, for example through school or an organisation that supports them.

How does the coach help young people develop wellbeing and resilience?

A key role the coach has in the coaching process is establishing an effective coaching relationship. This positive relationship with a trusted adult is crucial to the experience of coaching as a way of supporting young people to develop wellbeing and resilience. 

The positive coaching relationship builds on several core principles, these include optimism, empathy, trust, perspective, and challenge. Essential to the coaching relationship, the coach must have belief and hope that enables the young person to take responsibly for their own aims, actions, and progress during the process of coaching. To do this the coach will use essential coaching skills, such as active listening and asking questions and suggest suitable activities that boost various skills and abilities essential for wellbeing and resilience.

Can coaching be used in other ways to help young people?

Utilising a coaching approach means many young people can gain the benefits to wellbeing listed above but without necessarily having to sit down and have a one-to-one coaching session. The skills of the coach and the coaching relationship can be integrated into many other roles in supporting young people. These include but are not limited to:

  • Teaching and learning
  • Academic mentoring
  • Youth or support work
  • Pastoral Support

We hope this has inspired you to consider coaching as a helpful way of providing targeted support to prevent mental health problems in the young people that you work with and support. 

Find out more about our approach to developing resilience in young people through coaching by booking your place onto our FREE Discovery Workshop.

You may also be interested in learning how to become a coach and use Positive Psychology Coaching in your work.

Interested in becoming a Coach?

Find out more about our Worth-it Coach Training.

(1) Keyes, C., Dhingra, S. and Simoes, E. (2010) Change in level of Positive Mental Health as a predictor of Future Risk of Mental Illness. American Journal of Public Health 100 (12) 2366-2371

(2) Robson-Kelly, L., & van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2016). What does coaching have to offer to young people at risk of developing mental health problems? A grounded theory study. International Coaching Psychology Review, 11(1), 75-92.

(3) Campbell, M. and Gardner, S. (2005) A Pilot Study to assess the Effects of Life Coaching with year 12 students In M. Cavanagh, A.M. Grant and T. Kemp (eds.) Evidence Based Coaching, Volume 1, Theory Research and Practice from the Behavioural Sciences (pp. 159-169). Bowen Hills, Queensland: Australian Academic Press.

(4) Green, S., Grant, A. and Rynsaardt, J. (2007) Evidence-based life coaching for senior high school students: Building hardiness and hope. International Coaching Psychology Review 2(1), 24-32