Providing Mental Health services to school students requires patience, consistency, and a therapist who recognizes they are “a passenger on their journey”. An effective therapist must show up to every session flexible and optimistic -- even when the youth is consistently resistant to talking, when all they want is to use your office as a retreat from the classroom -- the greater goal of supporting student success must always be in mind. A Better Way’s school-based therapists are striving to help youth become successful students, while addressing the impediments to their success.
I had the opportunity sit down and speak with two of our school-based clinicians, Helenia and Jorge. Both therapists offer services in middle schools in Alameda County, serving up to 25 students a year. During this meeting, I learned the value of providing mental health services to young people during school hours.
Clinicians working with youth between the ages of 11-14 are witness to a critical developmental moment in this young person’s life. According to an article on All Pro Dad The Top Five Problems Tweens Face are:
In addition to the typical tween problems as mentioned above, some youth may be dealing with Anxiety, PTSD, Depression, and problems at home. Having therapists on campus can create a more nurturing environment for the youth to process and prosper through the changes they might be experiencing and the challenges they face within their daily lives.
Based on our conversation, I gathered that we need more therapists on campus and a greater interest in nurturing the mental health of our youth. School-based therapists possess valuable insight into the challenges students face, that school staff and faculty may not have the time, training or expertise to address. Because therapists meet with students one-on-one each week, they get to see the young person as they truly are. They are “more intimately involved in their stress and triggers”; therapists are aware whether the parents are involved or not, which greatly influences a student’s success in school.
Additionally, according to an article in the Washington Post:
“…Children under stress have difficulty focusing on the curriculum and retaining what they learn. When schools address these kids’ emotional needs, train the staff to spot signs of trouble, and intervene early, students feel safe and secure in their learning environments. This, more than anything else, can help students thrive in school.”
To my surprise, Jorge and Helenia report the youth have totally bought in to receiving therapeutic services. While students may not want to talk right away, they recognize their need for a safe place outside of the classroom, where they can be heard and just be themselves without judgement or punishment.
In schools, there is an expectation of youth to sit down, be quiet, listen and learn. What if that young person is struggling and keeping those feelings bottled up? “…We must prepare them with life coping and self-management skills and let them know it is okay to have space to take care of yourself.”
Therapy during school hours is a preventative resource that can help youth to grow and thrive -- not only in school, but also in life. Mental Health clinicians can also help to shift the culture of an entire school, making it a place where youth feel comfortable being themselves, knowing that the adults around them care about how they are doing.
This is a “Journey line”. It is a creative activity that helps clients open up. The way it works is you pick out important moments/memories and draw/write them down to give the client a narrative of their life. It shows growth and obstacles they overcame and how such events shaped them into who they are today.
Written By, Taisa Grant
Patrick Schirmer, LMFT is a school based therapist and clinical supervisor at A Better Way, Inc. He has been practicing therapy for six years and has been working in schools with children his entire adult life. He has been trained extensively in using family therapy over the years and continues to grow and learn from every interaction with a child and their family.
Taisa Grant, is the Data Analyst at A Better Way and a content creator on our marketing team.