School therapists work with individuals, groups and classes in the school to support students to succeed academically, socially, behaviorally and emotionally. In light of the major challenges facing public schools today school therapists carry a heavy burden and share this responsibility with teachers and staff to provide students with a beneficial learning experience during their school years.
School therapists may carry out specific programs which target a particular problem area of the school. The following are three types of programs attempted at different schools that are making an impact and showing some results.
1. Improvement in Reading
If a school finds that its achievement test scores are going up, it may be partly because of a program that targets reluctant readers to read. Animal assisted therapy (AAT) is a program instituted at some schools that uses trained dogs and their handlers in a literacy program. Reading to a dog is comforting and encourages a child with learning difficulties because the dog does not react to mistakes. The child derives emotional support from the attentiveness of the dog and relaxes in that companionship. This can even help gifted readers who restrain themselves because of expectations of superior performance. The benefits are improvement of reading skills and increasing motivation to read.
The companionship of a dog has been found to assist with reducing stress and to foster trust, ease loneliness, provide solace and bring additional mental health benefits. There are schools throughout the country now that have adopted “therapy dogs” not only to help with reading, but to help children under emotional stress and with social problems. Specially trained “therapy dogs” are being brought into schools and other settings for their unique contributions to human functioning.
2. Preventing School Dropouts
Multiple programs have been tried in schools and school systems to help prevent dropouts and to bring students back to school or to other educational settings. If the school dropout rate is falling, this means that the programs to aid these at-risk students are succeeding.
The school therapist plays a key role in helping the school to create an atmosphere that connects with students who are alienated from school. The aim is to help them develop a sense of belonging and be meaningfully engaged in and out of the classroom. The potential or actual dropout generally has personal, home and learning issues that the therapist can work with.
A program that has helped with reducing dropout rates is Art Therapy. Troubled youngsters can express their problems and feelings through art projects and be helped with the difficulties they are facing.
3. Addressing Bullying and School Violence
Bullying in schools is a perennial problem, and anti-bullying programs have been tried by schools for many decades. A 2013 study examined the kinds of programs that have been tried and found that programs that use a whole-school approach and involve parents were generally found to be effective. Mixed results were found for programs that focused only on helping students learn self-awareness, relationship building and responsible decision-making.
When the social climate of the school reflects acceptance, caring and safety, this shows that an effective anti-bullying program is in place,
The above are only three of the many problem areas that engage the services of a school therapist. The contributions made by the school therapist in creating a safe, caring and learning-rich environment supports and enhances the work of teachers and school personnel; the beneficiaries are the children who are our future.