Schools are where children spend the majority of their time outside of the home. Schools are also the only place where some children have access to services that promote and maintain health. Educational systems are making increasing use of mental health services to support academic achievement. Early intervention by collaborative health teams is aimed at preventing problems that can escalate into behavior dyscontrol and violence.
In recent years, schools have begun to employ system-wide programs and services to improve school climate and address the social and emotional variables that are precursors to learning. It is an auspicious time for systems-trained marriage and family therapists to join school teams. As the MFT profession matures and obtains such specialized credentials as school certification along with licensure, clinicians need to understand the culture of school systems and multidisciplinary teams in order to practice effectively on in schools.
MFTs who practice and/or consult to schools need to appreciate the unique culture of school systems and our initial “guest” role in order to engage comprehensively. We also need to appreciate the history of special education in America schools, as well as the more recent systemic initiatives such as Response to Intervention, Multitiered Systems of Support, and Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support, in order to have a fuller appreciation of the shift from linear to systemic thinking in education.
Such orientation is necessary in order to appreciate how timely school certification for MFTs is and how relevant MFTs are to school teams. The profession of marriage and family therapy has a strong multidisciplinary history, and we are in a unique need position to appreciate the “necessary redundancies” that all mental health professionals share, as well as the singular contributions of each profession. Multidisciplinary collaboration is necessary in order to navigate the health and educational needs of all students, as well as to advocate collectively for the health needs of students and their families in in education.
Childhood trauma can profoundly affect a child’s readiness to learn, although the effects may be difficult to observe. “Squeaky wheels” most often get the grease, and often children who struggle with numbing violence at home or in their communities may experience more “invisible” symptoms of anxiety and depression that are not readily observed in an educational setting. Mental health teams who can screen and advocate for students with trauma histories can help prevent undue strife and possible violence later.
Health care systems across the U.S. are beginning to develop a Medical Home framework, where patient and family-centered mental health services are provided in primary care settings. Likewise, health care teams in schools can provide an Educational Home in schools to promote the health and resilience of all students, particularly those in need of special services to help them achieve.
Join Kathleen for a three-part webinar series on MFTs in Schools. Learn more and register here.
Kathleen Laundy, PsyD, LMFT, MSW, is a Past President of the Connecticut Division of AAMFT and she helped pass the first legislation certifying MFTs for school-based practice in the U.S. in 2007. She is an AAMFT Approved Supervisor and Trainer, and she is on the clinical faculty of Central Connecticut State University, where she teaches preparatory courses for school certification. She is the author of Building School-Based Collaborative Mental Health Teams: A Systems Approach to Student Achievement.