holistic student support

We had a speaker (Julien Gordon) come to our campus (UNCG) almost a month ago, where he made a declaration that we are not in the education business, we’re in the mental health business.  To be honest, he turned off a few faculty and staff members, but I thought he was 1/2 right.  We are not solely in the mental health business, I believe are in (or should be in) the health and well-being business.  And here’s why I’m moving in that direction.

For the past three years, we’ve asked the students in our “What Could I Do With My Life” class (week 6) to identify the five most important things (out of 21) in their lives right now (most are first-year students).  Out of curiosity, I decided to take a look at (and tabulate) the responses over the past three years.  After tabulating over 1,000 responses, it was VERY clear that the MOST important thing students value is “being healthy physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually” – over 2/3 of the students (68.8%) indicated that this was the most important.  After that, “being happy” (53.1%), “connecting with family” (52.6%), “getting a degree” (48.8%), and “being successful” (45.2%) were most important.  The other 16 values were 33% or less.  Then, two weeks ago (Week 11), we asked students to identify a specific problem to solve and why it’s a problem and why it matters to them and to others.  I would estimate that at least 50-60% of the responses stated that the problem they want to solve involves something around some type of physical or mental health issue.  So not only is it important to the students, but it’s also important in the “work” that they do.

(Click here for a link to the data: what’s important in my life results, 10-29-19)

With that, I decided to come up with our own guidelines and tenets regarding “holistic” student support:

Guidelines for Developing Holistic Student Support
  • Focus on the student’s current state of being and how he/she approaches day-to-day life.
  • Consider the whole student, especially how he or she interacts with his or her environment.
  • Emphasize the connection of body, mind, heart, and spirit.
  • Understand that all four parts are interdependent and must work properly together in order to have an overall positive sense of health and well-being.
  • Have a goal to achieve maximum well-being, where everything is functioning at the highest level possible.
  • Encourages students to accept responsibility for their own level of health and well-being, and everyday choices that affect their health.

Tenets of Holistic Health/Well-Being

  • Body (Physical) – Your physical well-being, which includes movement, nutrition, and sleep.
  • Mind (Mental/Intellectual) – Your cognitive abilities to enable clarity of thought.
  • Heart (Emotional/Social)- Your ability to navigate your feelings and capacity to connect with others to form positive relationships.
  • Spirit (Spiritual) – Your commitment to something bigger than yourself through a sense of purpose, direction, or meaning.

Based on the guidelines and the results of our student values survey, it’s my goal to refine (or re-construct) our Life Design Catalyst Program – especially for first-year students – so that we actually can actually provide services that are truly “holistic” in nature.  I believe that we do a good job of addressing each area already, but I know we can do a better job.  I would like to make sure that our first-year experience courses – “What Could I Do With My Life” in the Fall and “Redesign a Life you’ll Love” in the Spring – could provide better tools, resources, and activities to enhance holistic support.  There is SIGNIFICANT information regarding issues around mental health right now; however, if all four areas (heart, mind, body, and spirit) are interconnected, then we need to address all four areas, not just one.  And the research shows that if we implement such practices as gratitude, meditation, purpose work, and faith-based work, the incidence of mental health issues will decrease.

Since most young people don’t know what they don’t know, they don’t know (or haven’t been shown) how to incorporate holistic practices in living a healthy life.  So it’s up to us – as advisors and coaches – to help them develop practices that can not only enhance their lives, but also help in developing their educational, career, and life goals.  Most advising/coaching practices emphasize the “mental/intellectual” – and to some degree, social.  However, if you’re truly a holistic program, please take the time to address all four tenets of holistic health and well-being.

Feel free to share your thoughts…would love to hear from you!

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