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AHS May Blog: The Role of Family Life Coaching as a Critical Partner in Mental Health

The Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences publishes a monthly blog written by students, alumni, and faculty sharing important topics and helpful resources related to the fields of agricultural, extension, and human science. In the May blog post, AHS adjunct faculty member Autumn Guin examines the role of family life coaching within the mental health field.

Take a moment and think about goals you might set for yourself, a significant other, a child, or your family. Those goals might range from planning a vacation, taking time for self-care like exercise or weight management, or gaining a degree or certification. How much more successful might you be with someone helping you think through the planning and action steps to reach those goals? That—helping someone think through planning and action steps to reach their goals—is precisely what a coach is trained to do. Family Life Coaches are specifically trained to use coaching strategies and family life education to empower families to reach goals within a collaborative process that encourages family members to use their own knowledge and expertise as they create action steps toward the family’s self-defined destination (Allen, 2017). 

What does this have to do with mental health? Everything! One of the first lessons a coach learns is that coaching is not counseling or therapy. This does not mean that coaches cannot support goals related to mental health. However, how a coach might work with a family struggling with a mental health challenge differs from how counselors, therapists, and other clinical professionals approach this work. And given that our youth are experiencing a mental health crisis, with the CDC (2022) reporting that suicide is the leading cause of death among children 10 to 14 years old, it is absolutely time for an all-hands-on-deck approach to addressing mental health. 

I recently read this article, Family Coaching as a Delivery Modality for Evidence-based Prevention Programs, that discusses the ways that Family Life Coaches might provide early intervention and prevention for mental/behavioral health when higher-cost services, such as diagnostic and treatment services, are not required (Rotheram-Borus et al., 2018). Because Family Life Coaches are also family life educators, they already have a deep knowledge of child development and family dynamics. These skills coupled with a variety of coaching tools, techniques, strategies, and models from many different fields (e.g., coaching psychology, positive psychology, Family Life Education) equip Family Life Coaches to provide guidance and education to families.

What does this look like in practice? A parent who is having difficulty parenting a child who has endured bullying at school might take the child to therapy or counseling for healing. At the same time, that parent might work with a Family Life Coach to develop parenting skills to be more effective in caring for the child. In this way, the Family Life Coach becomes a critical partner in the mental health of both parent and child, equipping the parent to be the best parent they can be to support the healing needs of the child. 

That is one possible example. There are so many ways that a coach—working as an accountability partner, cheerleader, or family educator—can be a valuable partner for struggling parents, children, and individuals. Want to learn more about Family Life Coaching? Check out the Youth, Family, and Community Sciences Online Graduate Certificate in Family Life Education and Coaching and the Family Life Coaching Association.