Living the Mission as a School Based Therapist


It’s 8:35 AM, and I am already moving at a rate that would make a professional speed walker turn his head. The students are streaming in the door. I am methodically smiling and trying to respond amidst a whirlwind of messages. “Mrs. Pell, look what I brought to school today!” “Beep! Mrs. Pell, please contact the office.” “Mrs. Pell, when are we meeting? Can I see you today, please?” “Mrs. Pell, let me tell you about what your student did on the way up from breakfast.” I am already wondering if I will be throwing out my carefully planned schedule in order to juggle another surprise round of testing and the fundraiser assembly (which I just found out about) that my clients must not miss. I wonder, “What am I doing out here in the hall anyway?” I know I must have had a reason.


This is the beginning of a “typical” day (does that exist?) for those of us who work as school based therapists. There are many challenges that come along with providing outpatient therapy within the school setting. We are guests within the school. Some of us work in closets, storage rooms, or cozy offices, while some of us have no defined space at all. We must remain focused on our role, while monitoring the school’s desires for our assistance or their expectations that we will “fix” the students with whom we work. We must be conscious of the school’s needs, scheduling, maintaining our boundaries, protecting confidentiality, and understanding the school culture and politics.


At the same time, we believe the school is a wonderful opportunity for service. Many clients and families would not seek services if it meant venturing into a new and unfamiliar environment. Less than 20% of students referred to outpatient services enter treatment; while 90% of those referred to school based services do. We get the opportunity to work as outpatient therapists within the child’s natural environment, obtaining a greater understanding of their world. We gain greater access to their families and can capitalize upon the existing relationship between the family and the school. We also get to work with other professionals, and help to implement change within an environment that can be very challenging for our clients.


Through school based services, we are provided with the opportunity to live the mission. The mission of school based services is the same. We are here to provide a caring therapist for every hurting child. When we are in session, we are focused on the child and family. We are ready to work together, to show our clients that we are committed to them, to provide them an opportunity to discover the greatness that is inside of them. We see children change and grow, develop their talents and character, and discover their own uniqueness and value. The importance of this mission permeates all that we do. We must maneuver the school successfully in order to ensure that these opportunities continue.


We all experience times that cause us to feel rewarded by this commitment and work: a child smiles and makes eye contact for the first time, a kid uses the tools that have been working on...a child will meet a milestone with success, or view their world and self differently. These times come in many forms. Many of us have had a teacher ask, "So, why does that child see you anyway? They seem like they are doing great.” We smile and think of how far they have come, knowing that last year’s teacher had a very different perspective. It is during these moments that we see the mission being fulfilled, and we can’t think of a better place to live it.


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