Life coaching helps students set realistic goals

Ahmed Numan’s first exposure to life coaches was a story about an entrepreneur who credited the coach with helping him succeed. He never imagined it could help him gain a new perspective at OUM when a rough patch in his personal life began affecting his studies.

“Of course, with studies being as stressful as they are already, other life stresses can pile on and cause further downfalls,” says Numan. “Unfortunately, in my case, a lot of personal issues had put me in a place where my studies were being compromised.”

That’s where Dr. Mari Brodersen, OUM Associate Director for Student Advising and life coach comes in. Finding a creative way to juggle studies, work, and family life is a necessary part of every OUM student’s journey, and it can be overwhelming. If you need help setting realistic goals, life coaching may help. Numan agrees.

“My session with Dr. Brodersen was honestly great. After talking with her and creating a plan for my future, we both came to realize what needed to be done. Execution was the next step, and that is what is occurring currently,” says Numan.

Life coaching vs. psychotherapy

Dr. Brodersen says life coaching’s popularity is due to the way it works. It moves clients more quickly toward their goals, and it usually does not take more than one-to-three sessions. The coach helps  clients clarify their priorities, identify goals, and take concrete steps to reach those goals. Dr. Brodersen, a psychiatrist who also serves as Clinical Course Director for Psychiatry, stresses that life coaching is not psychotherapy.

Dr. Mari Brodersen

“The major difference between therapy and coaching is that therapy is based on a doctor-patient medical model, while coaching assumes that the client is healthy,” she says. “Therapy often utilizes the past to understand the present, but coaching is focused on what you can do, here and now, to start making the changes you need to make in order to reach your goals. Coaching also assumes that the answers are within the client. Unlike counseling and psychiatry, the assumption is that the person is healthy and wants to make progress.”

Dr. Brodersen says her experience with OUM provides her a unique framework for understanding what the students are experiencing. For example, students may present saying they need to work to pay tuition, but the longer work hours are interfering with their studies.

“Depending on their situation, we may discuss priorities, what else may be interfering with study time, or decision-making or budgeting. I may ask questions – ‘What is realistic for you to do at this point?’ or ‘What is your priority at this time?’” says Dr. Brodersen. “People tend to put their energy into their priorities, and that’s why we need to clarify priorities. Once that’s settled, we can move on to setting goals based on priorities.”

Dr. Brodersen says the goals are used to create an action plan with very practical and concrete steps. She usually follows up within two weeks to see how the student is progressing. Sometimes, students change plans, and that’s okay as long as the actions are aligned with the priorities they outlined in the beginning.

Coach as guide

“The person being coached is the one who makes priorities, sets goals, and formulates the plan. The coach merely points out discrepancies and asks questions that guide the person in clarifying priorities, setting goals, and making a plan to attain that goal,” says Dr. Brodersen, adding that the coach’s role is to simply guide the client. Part of the coaching philosophy is that the answers lie within the person being coached.

Numan says creating a life plan has provided guidance and clarity for his journey and he is optimistic about the future.

“I’m still working on myself every day and the life issues I have. I do know that it’s a process that will take time,” says Numan. “Most importantly, focus on your life goals. That’s what’s helped motivate me to strive forward and succeed.”

(Students interested in pursuing life coaching may contact Dr. Brodersen directly (, also keeping your academic advisors in the loop.)

(December 2020)