Why Mental Health and Wellbeing Matters: Interview with Coaching and Counseling Center at ASB
Crystal Cha | Marketing Manager, Content and Services | Thought Leadership, Mental Health, Culture
“I wanted to help other people find meaning, and this inspired me to go into coaching.”
Mental and emotional health are some of the least discussed topics in our society today, yet they impact a wide range of people. People who struggle with it are often stigmatized and are left without a supportive environment.
At Asia School of Business (ASB), a pioneering and innovative business school, we strive to challenge the norms and spark new dialogue. This extends beyond just the business sphere, to our personal lives and mental wellbeing as well. With the establishment of the Coaching and Counseling Center at ASB, we strive to create a supportive environment for people to thrive. Being able to support individuals at work and in the campus environment is critical to ASB’s core value of nurturing people’s physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
During the recent Mental Health Awareness Month in May, we had the privilege of speaking to Michele Sagan, Head of the Coaching and Counseling Center at ASB. She is a psychotherapist as well as a certified executive and life coach, and completed her postgraduate studies in psychotherapy. Prior to diving into the coaching and counseling world, she spent twenty years in finance, management, human capital, and leadership roles, both in Malaysia and the UK, at global organizations including HSBC, Iclif, and CIMB. Michele is passionate about channeling her decades of experience working with people into helping them increase their wellbeing as well as dealing with a wide range of personal, mental, and emotional concerns such as anxiety, PTSD, relationship problems, and team conflict.
In a candid conversation, Michele shared her journey of how she discovered her passion for coaching and counseling that led to her heading the Coaching and Counseling Center at ASB. As awareness of mental health continues to grow in the wake of Covid-19, Michele discusses how mental well-being impacts both our personal and professional lives and the need for balance.
Crystal: Hi Michele! You’ve been in the coaching and counseling space for 8 years. But before that, you were in the corporate world. What inspired this big change?
Michele: I always tell people that they need to be their most authentic selves and do the things that add meaning to their lives.
For me, it was just about putting this advice into action. After decades of working in finance, I realized that what mattered to me was not crunching numbers but empowering the people behind the numbers. I started at Iclif in the area of leadership development and when I moved to ASB, I set up ASB’s Coaching and Counseling Center. Right now, I’m doing what matters most to me: empowering people to become their best selves. Becoming certified as a coach and psychotherapist has further equipped me with the tools I need to help people with greater nuance and a greater depth of understanding.
Why does ASB’s Coaching and Counseling Center exist?
Today, it has become increasingly important to support students and staff in terms of their mental and emotional well-being. There are so many stressors out there for students to navigate – from their workload to relationships to family issues. Counseling centers offer a safe space where mental and emotional health discussions can be normalized and tackled head-on. At ASB, we are pleased to be able to offer a wide range of coaching and counseling services to support our students, staff, faculty, and community.
How is the coaching and counseling center at ASB structured?
In line with ASB’s commitment to wellbeing and excellence, ASB Coaching and Counseling Center provides a comprehensive service not just focused on mental health management but also on the wellbeing and personal development of each and every one of ASB’s community members.
ASB’s Coaching and Counseling Center provides a variety of coaching and counseling approaches, including:
To support professional growth, we provide executive coaching focused on developing competencies so our staff and students can excel at work. We provide both individual and group coaching that cover a variety of topics such as leadership development, working in teams, stakeholder management, managing change, and more.
You can never tell when a student or staff member will need mental and emotional support. This is why we offer ad-hoc, walk-in counseling. This provides a safe and confidential environment for staff and students to address their psychological, emotional, and developmental needs. Staff and students benefit from individualized treatment plans and one-to-one counseling sessions.
When issues arise between different parties such as between students and ASB as a school, or between bosses and team members, we feel it’s important to have a trusted intermediary. As such, we provisory advisory in grievance cases and help people work toward positive resolutions.
Apart from these tailored services, we also have regular fireside chats throughout the organization to create a space to discuss topics related to mental and emotional health and work hand in hand with the HR department to continuously engage ASB staff and faculty through various wellbeing initiatives.
Michele Sagan is the Head of the Coaching and Counseling Center at ASB.
Why do we need to have more conversations around mental health?
Mental health is not only about managing mental health issues, it’s about wellbeing as a whole. It is about finding a balance and managing all aspects of your life from your mental, emotional and spiritual states to your physical wellness. It’s also about cultivating a sense of purpose and meaning in life while accepting who you are even as you strive to become your best self.
In many ways, mental health can be more important than our physical health because our physical health is often impacted by our mental and emotional states. It’s physiological at the end of the day.
From an organizational perspective, it is also important to support staff wellbeing as we need to bring compassion and empathy to the workplace. We don’t want a workplace with no soul, no heart, and no spirit.
“We need to bring compassion and empathy to the workplace because we don’t want a workplace with no soul, no heart, and no spirit.”
How has Covid-19 impacted our mental health?
For one, everyone is afraid for their own health and that of their families. This put significant stress on all of us. On top of that, we are all suffering from anticipatory grief where we grieve the future we had planned for ourselves and our loved ones – a future that is no longer certain because of this pandemic. When there is no clear end in sight, our stress is compounded further as we try to adjust to the new normal. Covid-19 has also seen a shift to working from home, and many respond to rising demands in the workplace by putting in longer hours, which takes a toll on us physically, mentally, and emotionally. Covid-19 fatigue does not help either, as we try to adapt to the new normal with increased Zoom and screen times. Technology also means it has become increasingly difficult for us to separate work from personal lives. It is common to check emails at all hours, take business calls at meals, and work on weekends. As such, the number of cases of people suffering from stress, anxiety and depression has increased significantly during the pandemic.
And because employees are working remotely, and micromanagement is no longer possible, it is more critical than ever that organizations focus on keeping their people motivated. Trust is now the most crucial commodity in any organization – trust between employers and employees. Employees will only give their best to organizations they trust and as such organizations have to put compassion and empathy at the forefront and center of any employee engagement initiative, bringing the ‘human element’ back into the workplace.
Has the dialogue around mental health improved since you started out in this space?
I think there is still stigma everywhere. But today, we see more people are opening up and saying, “I’m stressed; I’m not handling things well.”
In the past, people didn’t share these things. Attitudes like, “If I’m a high performer, I can’t have mental stress and can’t bring it to the professional table” were more prevalent.
But now, people are more open about their need for support, realizing that it is valid. They have come to realize that their mental health concerns are the same as any physical health impairment. If you’re not well, whether physically or mentally, then there is nothing wrong with seeking help and treatment. If we can get sick physically, why can’t we get mentally or emotionally ill? There are many viruses for mental health, such as toxic relationships, unhealthy habits, or the pressure put on you by society. So do bear in mind that seeking help for mental health is just like seeing a doctor for a physical ailment like the flu – you learn about your symptoms and then receive treatment for them.
“…today, we see more people are opening up and saying, “I’m stressed; I’m not handling things well.”
What’s your advice for the way forward?
Mental well-being must be given priority. Yet it’s hard for people to find trusted, safe spaces where they can address issues, or just vent. This is a key part of what we’re trying to do at the Coaching and Counseling Center. We know how personal these issues are: that makes privacy critical to everything we do. Every single conversation with our coaches and counselors is kept highly confidential. Neither the colleagues nor the managers of people who use our services will know that our services are being used.
If we can get sick physically, why can’t we get mentally or emotionally ill? There are many viruses for mental health, such as toxic relationships, unhealthy habits, or the pressure put on you by society.
More people than you think are reaching out for help. As a professional in this space, it’s clear to me that it is more important now than ever that we are there to provide them the support they need. Do remember though that at the end of the day, that the only person responsible for your own wellbeing and happiness is you. You have the power to change your situation and the first step to changing your life is to help yourself. So reach out and so speak to someone to get the support you need so you can live a fulfilled and meaningful life.
About the ASB Master of Central Banking Program
The Master of Central Banking (MCB) is designed for central bankers and offers a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind curriculum that connects all the core functions of central banking as well as leadership and governance, in light of the technological and economic changes taking place in today’s world.
For more information: https://asb.edu.my/academic-program/master-of-central-banking