August 7, 2020
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National Leaders in the Mental Health Aspects
of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
NYSTART Region 5:
Health and Wellness Coaching Success Story

Harry was referred for START Therapeutic Coaching services to assist with promoting structure within his day, enhancing positive communication and to develop richer social-emotional skills and social interaction with others.  Harry experienced frequent bullying throughout childhood and adolescence which caused him not only to withdraw but actually to disavow those aspects of himself that had led to bullying in the past.  Unfortunately, by denying those unique and sometimes eccentric aspects of himself, he squelched the very qualities that make him the person he is, someone full of zest and life, and which put him in flow.  Harry presented to his first coaching session via Zoom, appearing hesitant and retiring; however, the shirt he wore indicated otherwise.  His coaches were barely able to contain themselves as they exchanged introductions with Harry and his mother, eager to acknowledge Harry’s shirt which was fun and bold, with cats and ice cream cones scattered in space.  Finally the coaches exclaimed, in unison, what a “way cool” shirt Harry had chosen.  That was it, Harry lit up, beaming from ear-to-ear, and was an active participant in the remainder of his first coaching session that day. 

Screen shot from START virtual coaching session with Harry and START therapeutic coaches (shared with consent from all pictured)

At the next coaching session, Harry showed up wearing an even more colorful and flamboyant shirt, and he proceeded to outdo himself each week thereafter, much to the amazement of the coaches.  Their honest and genuine reactions during that first session had given Harry the validation he needed to embrace and celebrate those previously avoided aspects of himself, which he now showcased through his eccentric and colorful shirt choice.  But this was not limited to his shirt choice, as he not only enjoyed whatever creative activities were presented, but he took the initiative of taking the exercises to the next level on his own in between scheduled sessions.  One week the coaches offered a creative writing exercise where Harry was provided with stem phrases that he then completed. When provided with outlets and examples in how to express himself in this way, he then came back with his own elaborate and creative story about an alien invasion.  In another exercise, the coaches had Harry, a Harry Potter fan, complete a “house sorting” quiz online to determine with which character qualities he identified.  Harry identified with Gryffindor, which as any good Harry Potter fan knows, is associated with bravery as the poem states:
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart.’
 --Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
In another exercise, Harry, an animal lover, was asked to choose an animal that represents his strengths and he chose a Meer cat, noting that they are fast, protective, like to eat a lot, and stand up for themselves, but also can retreat when feeling shy.

In conclusion, it appears that validating Harry’s outward expression of his zest and creativity, enabled him to embrace those aspects of himself he had hidden for fear of bullying, freeing him to acknowledge all aspects of his identity.  This also allowed him to find meaning and opportunities for enrichment as well as achievement that put him into flow and resulted in self-acceptance, including his strengths as well as vulnerabilities.  In addition to opportunities for positive connection that he had not previously enjoyed, he also experienced improvements in mood and overall well-being, happiness, and satisfaction.  Given that one of Harry’s challenges is living with Prader-Willi Syndrome which affects multiple systems, the importance of positive mental health in promoting and maintaining physical health is especially important in view of the mind-body connection.  Research has shown that psychological health assets (e.g., positive emotions, life satisfaction, optimism, life purpose, social support) are prospectively associated with good health measured in a variety of ways (Park et al., 2014).  It’s apparent from the photograph of Harry’s last coaching session via Zoom with his NYSTART Region 5 Therapeutic Coaches and Coordinator that he certainly is comfortable in his own shirt.

Park, N., Peterson, C., Szvarca, D., Vander Molen, R. J., Kim, E. S., & Collon, K. (2014). Positive Psychology and Physical Health: Research and Applications. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 10(3), 200–206.


Thanks for reading and happy Friday,

The Center for START Services
Copyright © 2020 Center for START Services, All rights reserved.

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Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire