As a clinician, one of the first things I hear from adults when speaking to them about school-based therapy is “but the student is missing class time” with an even bigger emphasis on missing academics. The rationale behind this concern is reasonable given students go to school to learn. Parents and school staff alike want their students to succeed. While the definition of success is relative to one’s own definition, in order to be successful, one’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual being needs to be in a state of equilibrium.
Today’s culture is built on high standards and even higher expectations for students’ academic achievement. Beginning in elementary school, students feel pressure to have it all and do it all including but not limited to: good grades, high scores, honor classes, perfect attendance, extracurriculars, clubs, sports, etc. All of this without mentioning personal, family, and social pressures that exist on a continuum as well. Students are left with little down time to process and cope with everyday stressors and are not provided with the necessary tools to manage them. Stressors that are compounded by sitting in class and continuously thinking or worrying about them.
According to Kidshealth.org, stress is the function of demands placed on someone and that person’s ability to meet them. Stress affects the emotional, mental and physical health of a person. Stress can be caused from external or internal factors and can show up in a variety of ways and varying degrees for each individual. When a person feels stressed, his or her lower brain is activated (this is where one’s fight or flight response system is located) and the stress hormone cortisol is released. Cortisol interferes with the appropriate connections being made for kids to be able to concentrate and learn.
Learning happens in the cerebrum – where higher functioning of the brain occurs. If a student’s lower brain is in distress and not working properly then the higher functioning part of a student’s brain is not going to function properly either. If a student is unable to access higher functions of their brain, then their ability to regulate their emotions and emotional responses will be compromised along with concentration and learning.
In simpler terms, if a student is stressed out in class there is a high probability that he or she is not processing the information being given or retaining it. Having your child attend counseling is a wonderful resource to provide him or her with coping skills and strategies to use when feeling stressed out. School based counseling is an additional benefit because it increases access to kids, allows for timely intervention, and can provide relief to students and parents when schedules are already so tightly packed.