As the new academic year kicks off, K-12 students are returning to the classroom! As students return to class, many school districts are either continuing to offer or launching new teletherapy programs to support student mental wellness. With student mental health worsening and the need for support soaring, there is a growing demand for schools to expand or augment their mental health services. To meet this demand, 20 of the nation's largest districts have launched teletherapy programs since the pandemic, and more have followed suit.
The increase in teletherapy programs reflects school districts' commitment to addressing the youth mental health crisis and staffing shortages. Many K-12 schools lack enough school psychologists and counselors to respond to the mental health needs of their student populations. School-based teletherapy helps bridge this gap by enabling schools to support more students without hiring full-time staff. These programs are a great addition and complement to existing school health resources.
This blog explores the vital role of mental health support in schools and why school districts nationwide, regardless of size or location, are embracing teletherapy programs with enthusiasm.
Understanding school-based teletherapy
Teletherapy is a form of therapy that allows therapists and students to connect online through a tablet, computer, or other device connected to WiFi. School-based teletherapy bridges access gaps by providing opportunities for students to access mental health care where they spend much of their time–school.
8 benefits of teletherapy for K-12 youth
Teletherapy offers many benefits that improve the well-being of K-12 students.
- Accessibility: Teletherapy eliminates geographical barriers and allows students in rural or underserved areas to access licensed therapists who might not be available or have long wait times locally. Students can access culturally competent, multilingual providers who deliver teletherapy in the student’s native language and are understanding of cultural differences. School-based teletherapy enables students to access care at school, where they already spend a significant portion of their day.
- Convenience: Teletherapy eliminates the need for students to travel to a therapist's office, making it convenient for students and their families. Teletherapy saves time and reduces disruptions to the school day and the family's schedule.
- Flexibility: Teletherapy offers greater scheduling flexibility. Students can receive therapy sessions without missing significant amounts of school time, as sessions can be scheduled during breaks, before or after school, and even during lunch. At Hazel, teletherapy sessions are also available at home until 7 p.m. local time. Students can access care right after school in the afternoon or evening without traveling to an appointment.
- Comfort and familiarity: Some students might feel more at ease participating in therapy sessions from a familiar environment like their school or home. This can foster a more relaxed and comfortable atmosphere for discussing what they’re going through. K-12 students today have grown up in a digital-first world–they’re accustomed to using technology to communicate with others. Speaking with a therapist virtually might feel more intuitive to students than for adults.
- Reduced Stigma: Teletherapy helps reduce the stigma often associated with receiving therapy. Students may feel more comfortable seeking help when it's done discreetly, remotely, and privately.
- Privacy: Teletherapy provides privacy; students can engage in sessions in a quiet and confidential space. For students who can't maintain privacy at home, school-based teletherapy offers a safe place.
- Guardian involvement: Teletherapy allows guardians to be more directly involved in their child's therapy process. At Hazel, guardians participate in the first intake assessment, providing input and insights into their child's history and need for teletherapy. Throughout the therapy timeline, they can communicate directly with the therapist and learn strategies to support their child’s mental health.
- Collaboration: Teletherapy facilitates collaboration among the therapist, school staff, student, and the student's family. This results in more comprehensive, coordinated care that meets students' unique needs.
It's important to note that while teletherapy offers numerous benefits, it may not suit every student and every situation. Some students may require in-person therapeutic intervention.
How teletherapy improves attendance, back-to-class rates, and other school outcomes
School-based teletherapy improves attendance, reduces disciplinary incidents, and impacts other school outcomes. According to the research group Attendance Works, 8 million students were chronically absent before the pandemic. By Spring 2022, 16 million students were chronically absent, or one out of three nationally. Teletherapy contributes to the return of students to the classroom by enabling timely interventions and personalized support.
When attendance drops, or a student is at risk of chronic absenteeism, school staff and guardians can refer students for teletherapy to help get to the root causes of the student's challenges. Therapists can work with students (especially older students) to create personalized attendance improvement plans, encompassing positive reinforcement, goal-setting, and progress monitoring, increasing the likelihood of students returning to class. Family involvement is a critical component of attendance improvement, and teletherapy provides the opportunity for guardian involvement, which results in improved communication and joint understanding.
Beyond attendance, teletherapy contributes to a safer and more productive school environment by equipping students with essential emotional regulation and conflict resolution skills. By addressing underlying mental health challenges, teletherapy enhances students' self-esteem. Students who feel more confident and secure are less likely to engage in disruptive or self-destructive behaviors.