When students with psychiatric or substance use disorders arrive at college, they face additional obstacles that other students don’t. Supported education programs are an increasingly popular way to give these students tools that will help them manage these challenges and get the most out of higher education.
As the name suggests, supported education involves supporting students in their education. The elements of supported education programs can include help in navigating educational environments, activities that develop relevant skills, coordination with mental health services, and access to specialized staff.
Another aspect of some supported education programs is peer coaching. This practice involves matching students with other students who have faced similar mental health challenges and can provide guidance. A recent study looked a how these programs seem to work in practice by interviewing 44 students, faculty and staff about their thoughts on the peer coaching process.
In the interviews, several advantages of peer coaching were repeatedly mentioned. The people interviewed felt that peer coaching helped students navigate services offered by the school and manage the academic work associated with being a college student. Additionally, peer coaching was seen as giving students a valuable sense of not being alone.
The interviewees also identified some obstacles to implementing peer coaching programs. Actually finding people with the necessary skills to be peer coaches presented a challenge, as did training those people and matching them with students. Once they became peer coaches, preventing burnout was also an issue.
Thus, supporting students through peer coaching programs is something that requires a substantial investment of time and resources from the school or other institution that is coordinating the program. Nevertheless, that investment might be worth the payoff if it gives students with mental health conditions additional tools and a sense of connection that allow them to flourish in gaining a university education.