Mental health considerations?
It is broadly acknowledged that evidence-based coaching interventions are primarily aimed at a “normal population” rather than a “clinical population” (Grant, 2003). However this often leads to broad sweeping assumptions about the mental health of those presenting for coaching or positive psychology interventions. Coaches may falsely assume that those presenting for coaching fall within the “normal population”. This assumption has been challenged by three scientific studies showing that twenty-five to fifty-two per cent of people attending for coaching interventions present with significantly high levels of psychological distress (Green, Oades & Grant, 2006; Spence & Grant, 2007; Kemp & Green, 2010). Green, Oades and Robinson (2012) also highlight this issue and provide the example of a school student who may undertake a “strengths-based coaching intervention”, fail to apply their strengths sufficiently or achieve their goals, due to an underlying clinical disorder such as depression, potentially worsening the clinical disorder, rather than improving the child's wellbeing. As such, mental health is an important consideration when introducing coaching in an educational setting. Coaches should also have a strategy for the identification of psychological distress and mental disorder, particularly in the context of coaching where most coaches will not be mental health professionals. We would also encourage those offering coaching in the education sector to be trained in the identification of psychological distress and mental disorder, in order to make appropriate referrals for professional treatment (e.g., to the school counsellor).
Coaching students for mental toughness
Mental toughness is seen as an increasingly necessary attribute for young people (Clough & Strycharczyk, 2012b). Through the introduction to the concept of mental toughness and the use of the Mental Toughness Questionnaire (MTQ48) within a coaching context, it is possible to identify ways in which young people can increase their mental toughness in the face of examination pressures and the challenges of the workplace. Coaching can then be used to support young people to build their levels of mental toughness, if required. Broadly speaking, the introduction and use of the Mental Toughness Questionnaire in schools requires a number of stages:
Introduction of concept The concept of mental toughness
should be shared with the organisation and the young people within it
Use of MTQ48 questionnaire Young people should be asked to
complete the questionnaire
Discussion of results Young people should have an opportunity to consider the results in a one-to-one conversation Opportunities to develop particular mental toughness scales should be offered Young people should have access to a range of skills sessions or one-to-one coaching in order to develop their mental toughness Use of MTQ48 questionnaire Young people should be asked to
complete the questionnaire again, to measure the impact of the interventions above
Discussion of learning Young people should have an opportunity to discuss the entire process and their ongoing development in a one-to-one conversation
Celebration of achievements Young people and the organisation
should reflect on the process and celebrate positive outcomes
As seen in the table above, the first stage of introduction requires an explanation of the concept of mental toughness within an educational setting. A clear understanding of the terminology and a discussion of the importance of mental toughness are needed before any intervention can take place. In a school, this could be delivered through an assembly or in a “mentor group” or “pastoral care class”.
The next stage involves creating an opportunity for the young people to complete the questionnaire. This should take no longer than twenty to thirty minutes. This can be done as a supervised large group, or by allowing individuals to complete the questionnaire online over a relatively short timescale (e.g., one week). A very important element of the process is the one-to-one facilitated dialogue to discuss the reports generated. This can cause logistical and practical difficulties but is essential in order to gain the most out of the process. The purpose of the dialogue is to focus on what the young person has learned about their mental toughness and what they will do about it. In some schools it may be possible to arrange these discussions over a week or two after completion of the questionnaire. The report should be handed to the young person for her to read for herself. The coach's role is to discuss the report with the young person as she considers her results.
The school can offer some optional group activities focusing on the different scales of the mental toughness measure (control; challenge; commitment; confidence). These activities might include workshops on anxiety control, positive thinking, relaxation, attentional control, and goal setting (Clough & Strycharczyk, 2012a). The workshops could be offered in-house by school staff. In addition, it is recommended that coaching is offered to everyone who has completed the mental toughness measure. It is important that any follow-up coaching (following the one-to-one facilitated dialogue) is optional and not mandated. The young person concerned should not feel that she is obliged to be coached about her mental toughness.
An integrated, person-centred coaching approach has been proposed as particularly appropriate to support the development of young people (van Nieuwerburgh, 2012a). This approach will encourage people to “thoughtfully consider potential areas for development and take personal responsibility for pursuing these” (van Nieuwerburgh, 2012a,
p. 179). When coaching young people about their mental toughness, it is recommended that the following stages be followed (adapted from van Nieuwerburgh, 2012a).
Pre-coaching stage: Young person should request coaching. Coach should be given access to the young person's report and bring it to the session.
1. The coach should build rapport with the young person, building the foundation for a coaching relationship to discuss the topic of mental toughness.
The coach should discuss the way in which the coaching will be delivered, agreeing how often they are likely to meet. The sessions should be confidential, although the coach may want to be explicit
about any situations in which this would not apply. With young people, it is necessary to explain that confidentiality will be broken if the coach believes that the young person is at risk of harm.
2. It is important that the young person chooses the area for discussion. As the discussion is about mental toughness development, the young person can decide whether she would like to talk about confidence, commitment, challenge, or control. In some situations, the coachee may prefer to talk about a particular situation in school that she is finding difficult.
3. The young person is asked to share her overall goal with the coach. What is it that she would like to achieve? This helps to highlight the importance of improving the young person's mental toughness. For example, if her goal was to improve her grades in Mathematics, linking the development of mental toughness to this goal will assist in making the coaching a more meaningful endeavour to the young person.
4. In addition to the overall goal, the young person should be asked to think about what she would like as an outcome for the coaching session. This should be an achievable target for the coaching conversation. One important element of mental toughness is the sense that the young person can achieve targets that she sets herself, so the coach should ensure that the proposed outcome of the session is likely to be met.
5. The young person should then reflect on the results of her MTQ48 report, thinking about how the findings relate to her everyday experiences in school. It is helpful for the coach to explain that the results are not 100 per cent accurate, and that the young person can challenge or question some of the results. The coach can ask her to talk about how the results on the various scales affect her academic performance and social relationships in school.
6. To support the young person with her mental toughness, it is doubly important that the coach does not provide advice or suggestions. The purpose of the coaching sessions is to build the young person's confidence and self-reliance. The coach's role is to encourage the young person to generate as many ideas as possible for working towards optimal results.
7. Once the young person has proposed a number of ways of improving her MTQ48 results, the coach can support her to select the ideas that are most likely to make a difference. 8. The coach should then support the young person to sketch out an action plan for the time in between coaching sessions.
9. Finally, the coach and the young person should reflect on the outcome of the session. Have they achieved what they set out to achieve? When will they meet for the next coaching session?