As a lifelong educator and former ESE Director, I’ve seen the consequences firsthand of students who suffer academically, socially and emotionally due to inadequate counseling resources in schools. The research is clear: a strong, healthy mental outlook is critical for students to perform academically — and to be successful in their lives. Yet, an estimated 75% to 80% of children and youth who need mental health services never receive them,* leaving many far behind their peers.
This need was called home once again as I participated in the launch of online counseling services in a second chance school. The students, many of whom have experienced more adversity before they are teenagers than most others do during their whole lives, attend this school in lieu of expulsion, and have a wide variety of emotional and behavioral challenges along with other issues. As one administrator told me, if we don’t address these needs now, it won’t matter what material they are exposed to instructionally, learning will continue to be a struggle for each student.
Having regular access to a mental health professional can have far-reaching effects for these students. Teletherapy, either by phone or by videoconferencing, has been used for decades, and I was interested to talk to the students receiving services to ensure they will get the most out of online therapy as possible.
At the end of the day, the online counselor reported back that the students particularly enjoyed using the online tools and activities as part of their sessions, increasing their engagement. This is especially important in the early stages, where a counselor builds rapport, establishes trust, and learns more about a student’s life, concerns and needs.
Even more gratifying, one student told me “it’s cool talking to someone online about my life.” Another student, who is not currently receiving counseling, stopped me to ask how he could sign up. That leads to an even more important point: while IEPs dictate both assessments and mental health services, all students benefit from the availability of counseling, sometimes for specific needs like test anxiety or grief counseling, and others for more ongoing problems involving behavior issues or a need for better social skills. Many schools struggle to fill the need for counseling. Online therapy can fill this gap.
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Debra Giacolone is the Director of Special Education for PresenceLearning