Posts Tagged 'mental health'

The Importance of Counselors

counselor-1294858_960_720By Sabrina Bartels

Last week, I had the honor of participating in a panel discussion focused on youth mental health. The event was a collaboration between several organizations, including Marquette Law School, Marquette’s College of Education, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Individuals from across the country and from many different walks of life joined together to talk about the mental health crisis and what we can do to help support children and teens as they navigate these difficult struggles.

Of all the panels, I really liked the one where teens talked about overcoming and living with mental health concerns. One of the girls was a middle school student. When describing her middle school experience, she mentioned that she sometimes goes to her school counselor, but that it’s hard to see her because she’s so busy. The student said that her counselor’s door is closed a lot because she’s with other students, or “in a six-hour meeting.” It made me crack up (because it’s true, we have a lot of meetings!) but it also made me a little sad. Here was a student who really needed to see someone, but her counselor wasn’t available.

Which made me think of my own students. I’ve been lucky this year to have a slightly smaller 8th grade class, but I’m still as busy as ever. I thought about all the sign-up sheets on my desk, and how sometimes, it takes me one or two days to follow up with these students. Not because I don’t want to talk to them, but because every day can be filled with chaos and crises, and I am never guaranteed enough time. I think about students who like to check in with me, but whom I can’t always consistently meet with on the same day, or even the same time. As one of my kiddos put it, “You just never know what’s going to come through your door next, do you, Ms. B?” And for the record, he’s absolutely right.

I am so incredibly blessed to work in a district that recognizes the importance of counselors, psychologists, and social workers, and why we are so necessary. I’m also really fortunate that my administration recognizes the work we do. They’ve excused us from lunch duty and hallways sweeps. They limit the number of students who test with us. I’m lucky; I can’t say that enough. But I recognize that not every counselor is in my situation. At my school, the student to counselor ratio (on average) is about 310 to 1. In the state of Wisconsin, it’s around 454 to 1. And the ideal ratio? 250 to 1.

Why is this important? Because the more “stretched” we become, the less effective we are, and most importantly, the less time we have for kids. That means students who are struggling with bullying, mental health issues, academics, or trauma may not see us when their need is highest. This also means that we lose a window of opportunity to get to know the student on a deeper level. For some, it’s okay; the student will keep reaching out to us and we will have that chance. But for some who may already be nervous or scared to reach out, if they can’t have us at that precise moment the window closes and may not open up again.

Are we bound to miss students sometimes? Yes, of course. Sometimes, we have another student in our offices, and we have to tell the other one we will talk to them later. That’s part of our job. But the more counselors, psychologists, social workers, and outside agencies that are available, the less time they have to wait, the quicker we can address the problem, and the sooner students can return to class with a less-burdened mind. With their mind at ease, students have more brain power for school, which can help them achieve their full academic potential.

We’ve heard that these things we teach and model – emotional regulation, conflict resolution, and organization – are “soft skills.” These so-called “soft skills” are not that soft. These are skills that are so important to a student’s every day functioning as an adult. Their social/emotional success is just as critical to their learning as reading and math. That is what we are trained in. That is why we’re needed.

The event really sparked my enthusiasm, and continued to stress the importance of mental health professionals. But it was the youth panel that reminded me of why I do what I do, why I advocate for counselors, and why it’s an important job. The most inspiring thing is that these students haven’t given up. Neither should we.

Solving Tomorrow’s Problems Today: Treating Behavior Problems in Children

By Joanna Love —  A cockroach crawls across my foot. A dog wets on my toys. A three-year-old bites my arm.

I love this job.

It is a privilege to serve children in the inner city Milwaukee. And I’ve found toddlers to be some of the most delightful beings on the planet.

They are funny, honest, and desperately hopeful people, just beginning to express themselves with a few words. There may be multiple meanings when a two-year-old says, “NO!”

One fairly typical day, I walk up a narrow, dangerously crooked stairway, and a sign on the door reads, “Go away if this ain’t important!” I knock loudly. Yeah, this is important.

Most young children don’t “grow out of” mental health disorders. So, treating behavior problems in young kids is the most efficient way to change that trajectory. It’s like we’re solving tomorrow’s problems today.

I enter the living room of the tiny apartment that is completely empty, except a broken table with one chair. This is no time for classic talk therapy—my client doesn’t have a couch to lie on. And she can’t talk. I sit on the floor.

I love in-home therapy. For about an hour each week, I get to live in this space with this family. I get to see, feel, smell and hear some of what this little one sees, feels, smells and hears every day.

This child does not engage normally. Her expression is blank and emotionless. Her behaviors are disorganized and repetitive. I begin to understand her story, how her mother’s severe depression has prevented her from being fully able to nurture her daughter. The little girl responds to her confusing environment with temper outbursts and aggression, by throwing her body on the floor or pulling out her hair when she becomes upset.

It’s tough to witness suffering in little children. Or to see how their mamas are working so hard with so little support, trying to make life better for their kids. Struggling to overcome poverty, discrimination, and unhealthy environments. Many parents still have wounds from their own histories of abuse or inadequate role models.

Over the next several weeks, I see a transformation in this child as her relationship with her mother improves. She now looks to her mother for comfort, and they both cuddle more, give hugs and kisses, smile at each other.

I know that change is always possible. Brains can adapt, bodies can heal, minds can be renewed.

Jesus said the kingdom of heaven belongs to little children. So every day I get to see God’s kingdom come on earth in quantifiable ways. We measure this stuff scientifically. By addressing the needs of children, we see incredible change in families. Mothers foster healthy development, absent fathers become attentive dads, kids suddenly enjoy listening to their parents.

I have become an advocate for the weakest of our human family, for those who don’t have a voice and can’t fight for their rights. Children use behaviors to communicate their needs, to share their pain and frustration, and to call attention to real problems that they need adults to fix.

We can help them.

For more information about the life-changing work being done at the Marquette University Behavior Clinic  visit the Penfield Children’s Center web site.

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Joanna Love is a Licensed Professional Counselor at the Penfield Children’s Center Behavior Clinic, where she provides in-home therapy to families of young children with significant behavioral and emotional problems. She is also a Back-Up Youth and Family Advocate at Pathfinders Youth Shelter, where support and services are provided to runaway, throwaway, and homeless youth. She received her M.A. in Community Counseling from Marquette University and her B.A. in Psychology from Luther College. She plans to continue serving children and families in the community and to further her professional development in the field of mental health.

Flu shot? Check. Mental health? Oh, Right.

by dawnzy58

By Ashley Fahey – Sorry for the interruption, teachers, this is a Code E,” an administrator’s voice echoes over the PA system.

I freeze the projector and checked my email. “OK guys, don’t be too disappointed,” I said as I un-froze the projector to read the email from the building secretary…EARLY RELEASE!  A water main that serves 80% of the buildings in the school district had broken.  Students would be allowed to go home after fourth hour!   Joyful screaming ensued…

But, what about the teachers?  Would we stay the whole day or would we be privy to this joyous celebration?  An email soon followed from our building principal explaining that we would get to go home too!  Which brought me to a dilemma…

What would I do with all that free time?  (You know…all 4 hours of it?)  The truth is, I’d been feeling really overwhelmed lately.  To those who have asked how I’m doing, my typical response has been, “Well, I feel like I’m treading water and that sometimes my heads not always above the surface.”

Needless to say, it was a serious debate  between (a) going home and getting caught up on grading or (b) taking the afternoon off and hobnobbing around the University of Iowa campus.  After going out to lunch with a group of 9th grade teachers, I decided to take care of my mental health and wander around UI’s campus.  What I ended up doing was sitting in the local coffee shop and reading.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of mental health. Whether you’re a student teacher, a pre-service teacher, or a  seasoned veteran, you simply cannot lose your sense of self.  So, sometimes, you just need to take the afternoon off so you can recharge.  It sounds simple, but as I I sat there re-reading my favorite work of “chick lit” (with an iced coffee, of course), I felt more like myself.  My brain suddenly rewired, and I felt much more calm.  I knew that, even after a long day, I could go home and be even more productive that evening.  When my fiancé met me after his class, he was greeted with a smile, which was the first one in a few days.

I’ll admit that I am one of those people with a severely “type A” personality.  I’m still learning (and struggling at times) of what to focus my energy on and what to let go, both in the classroom and at home.  I usually regret 50% of my decisions.  But, taking that afternoon off?  That’s one of the best decisions I’ve made all school year.

Now, I just have to make it to Thanksgiving!


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