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Support Students With In-School Therapy

By Adam D. Drummond
Communicator
May 2015, Volume 38, Issue 9

In this age of standardized testing, increased accountability for teachers and administrators, and the infinite flow of communication and information, it is no surprise that the stress of those issues, as well as many others, has trickled down to produce more stress for students. Schools are working with agencies outside the school setting to meet the behavioral, mental, psychological, and even physical needs of their students.

Addressing the Need

Lincoln Elementary in Huntington, Indiana, a school of nearly 475 students in grades K-5, is in its third year of a partnership with the Bowen Center, a nonprofit mental health care services provider in northern Indiana. In this partnership, the Bowen Center pays for and houses a full-time, licensed, in-school therapist who meets with clients (students) throughout the school day. A classroom teacher, counselor, principal, or parent may refer a student, who may struggle in a variety of areas, including anxiety, depression, anger, suicide, or a host of other concerns.

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Upon the first request, agreed on by parental consent, an initial intake is set up with the family. After a review of records and information is collected, a treatment program is implemented and reviewed on an ongoing basis. Provided that the parents have signed a release, the in-school therapist is able to work directly with the classroom teacher and administration to support the student in the treatment. Treatment may include individual counseling sessions, but also may have in-classroom support through Bowen staff members as well.

Third-grade teacher Stefanie VerBryck has worked with the in-school therapy program at Lincoln Elementary since its inception. “In-school therapy assists students in being successful both socially and academically. As a teacher, it is comforting to know your students’ needs are met one-on-one during difficult parts of their day where they struggle the most,” she explained.

Strategies

While the improvement may feel slow, the school and mental health care agency have worked to train classroom teachers about the type of progression one should expect from treatment and therapy. The classroom teacher and the in-school therapist need to work in tandem to help create the best opportunity for student success. The school principal supports both the therapist and the classroom teacher through connecting services, updating needs, and problem-solving with both entities to help support treatment plans for students. Setting small goals and using the strategies that were set in the treatment plan provide the student with a concrete plan to use in crisis. If the teacher is unaware of the plan, he or she is unable to support the student in using the strategies that were discussed with the therapist. If a child is in crisis, however, the therapist is at school and on-call to help support the student in the given situation.

“The immediate feedback in how to cope with various situations they encounter throughout the school day prepares them for social interactions in the real world. Students develop a relationship and accountability with their therapists and all become a part of the classroom family,” VerBryck noted.      

Shelly Snyder, director of the Huntington County Bowen Center, said that strategies include enhancing personal skills, coping skills, and problem-solving skills, and developing decision-making skills and positive peer and family interaction supports. Snyder also explained that the therapy that occurs helps support the team that works with the student.

As a school principal, exploring opportunities to connect with services similar to the Bowen Center provides an additional layer of support for the school, students, and their families. Strong partnerships can create a wrap-around service that features a team of professionals supporting the student to be successful in the academic setting, as well as taking those skills and applying them in out of school contexts.

A school therapy program positively impacts not only students, but also parents, teachers, administrators, boards of education, other student services personnel, school counselors, business, and industry in Huntington County. The benefits of having an in-house Bowen Center therapist at the school enables students to have one-on-one confidential sessions to address emotional needs, which will improve academic success.

Adam D. Drummond is principal of Lincoln Elementary School in Huntington, Indiana.

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