SHRP Wellness Symposium
Scotch Plains, N.J.—Pick up any magazine or newspaper, and you’ll read about how many Americans seek the elusive ideal of achieving “balance” in their lives. The reality, however, is that people each face their own unique stresses, challenges and goals. And what defines “balance” for one person might be quite different for another.

Enter the wellness coach, who can help individuals sort out the balance that is right for their lives. In this collaborative process, the wellness coach works one-on-one with individuals for a limited time (usually 9 to 12 weeks) to help them identify their strengths in the eight dimensions of wellness—spiritual, occupational, intellectual, social, physical, environmental, financial and mental/emotional—and clarify what they hope to change or improve. In doing so, the coaches help people define what “balance” means to them and helps guide the person toward a successful and long-lasting behavioral change.

Since 2009, the Department of Psychiatric Rehabilitation and Counseling Professions at the University of Medicine and Dentistry’s School of Health Related Professions (SHRP) has been training individuals in peer wellness coaching. On May 31, an audience of about 125 people filled the room at UMDNJ’s Scotch Plains campus for a “Wellness Coaching Symposium,” which featured panel discussions and poster displays demonstrating how peer wellness coaching can be a life-changer—for both the coach and the person he or she is assisting. “Peer wellness coaches help people find a self-defined balance of good health habits based on strengths and needs in the eight dimensions of wellness,” says Peggy Swarbrick, Director of the Institute for Wellness and Recovery Initiatives and an assistant faculty member at SHRP. “We have seen this approach benefit people by helping them to cut down and quit smoking, lose weight, maintain employment tenure, access needed health screening, improve energy and endurance to improve their quality of life.”

The symposium recognized the Wellness Coaching Older Adult Class of 2013 and highlighted the successes of projects such as the Peer Wellness Coaching Training and the Wellness for Life program, innovative programs that are a result of a partnership between SHRP and Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey.

How Wellness Coaches Help
A wellness coach applies principles and processes of health promotion and coaching to the goal of lifestyle improvement for higher levels of wellness. There is a specific focus on the relevant physical health factors previously identified as problematic including:
•low levels of physical activity/sedentary lifestyle,
•the use of tobacco and other addictive substances,
•the lack of nutrition and dietary education,
•diet and glucose monitoring for diabetes prevention and management,
•oral hygiene/dental health practices, and
•use of medications which contribute to metabolic syndrome, obesity, and other health conditions

Wellness coaches provide ongoing individualized support and reinforcement. In this context, a coach is a person who supports peers in achieving their goals with encouragement and questions.

The Wellness Coaching role was developed as a workforce innovation to help support people with mental and substance use disorders with risk factors and medical conditions that impact their recovery. Members of this group face health disparities that impacts their quality of life and lifespan. The wellness coaching training curriculum was developed through a collaboration between staff at Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey and faculty in Department of Psychiatric Rehabilitation and Counseling Professions, UMDNJ-SHRP.
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