After a two-week stay at a psychiatric facility, a ninth-grader was scheduled to return to school. But she begged to be allowed to stay home that first day, and her parents acquiesced, worried that returning too soon would trigger a rehospitalization.
A day turned into a week, and the school realized they needed help. So, they consulted with McLean’s School Consultation Service (SCS).
Launched in 2017, the SCS brings the expertise of six psychologists and two psychiatrists to 69 K-12 schools throughout Massachusetts. These experts in child and adolescent mental health provide individual case consultations, therapeutic classroom consultation, and professional development to school staff, as well as webinars for parents.
“We consult on a wide range of issues and if it’s outside our wheelhouse—for example substance use or eating disorders—we bring in other McLean experts to help,” said Program Director Maggie Gorraiz, PhD.
In the case of the ninth-grader, a McLean psychologist helped the school devise a plan to gradually ease the teen back into her old routine, using an evidence-based approach called exposure therapy. During her first days back, the student attended only her favorite classes, and gradually added others that might be more anxiety-producing.
“It’s like learning to swim,” explained Gorraiz. “You don’t learn by hanging on the side of the pool. You start in the shallow end and gradually work your way to the deep end.” The SCS also counseled the school about how to talk to the parents.
“Parents mean well and don’t realize that sometimes their own fears and distress can get in the way,” she added.