GREEN BAY – Providers participating this summer in school-based counseling throughout the Green Bay School District are urging parents this school year to get involved in their children’s counseling.
It’s a frustration that Joanne Klysen, director of community-based counseling at Foundations Health & Wholeness, says stands out more than most of the issues she observes in her young clients.
Parents, Klysen said, can get involved in several ways: They can ask their child if they would like to share anything they talked about during a session, they can arrange with the provider to attend a parent-child session if all parties agree, or, potentially, they may consider independent counseling by their child.
That last point, Klysen said, tends to get the biggest response and isn’t always handled politely.
“It’s not always just one problem the child has. It’s a systems issue,” Klysen said. “We’ve seen memes all over the internet about parents balking at the idea that they might need counseling when they bring their kids to see us.”
Klysen was one of several mental health providers who participated in the first summer of school mental health counseling for Green Bay area public school students.
Seven Green Bay-area public schools opened their doors for therapy sessions, allowing providers on-site to accommodate students.
According to a report from Harvard University’s Center on Child Development, there are many misconceptions when it comes to the mental health needs of young people. Rugged individualism, despite social messages, does not help young people cope with adversity; relationships between caregivers or mentors and children make a difference.
The report also works at the local level. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Fox Valley provides a model for emphasizing parental involvement in their child’s life. From September to November 2021, for example, of the 133 youth sessions, 85 included parent participation.
His 2021 report shows that, in both client and parent reports, 95% of new clients who went through the program experienced reduced symptoms.
Carlyn Andrew, senior director of counseling and training at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley, said the heart of mental health work is the “real connections” made between children and adults.
“One of the biggest protective factors in a young person’s life is the presence of at least one caring adult,” said Andrew. “It’s in the presence of that connection that young people feel safe and comfortable enough to share what’s going on for them.”
Meanwhile in Green Bay, Klysen tutored eight students in grades three through eight on a weekly or biweekly basis, seamlessly transitioning from the end of the school year to the summer session with them.
She has observed several things beyond the walls of the counseling session during the process.
As children and youth go through the motions of counseling, a parent’s involvement can help show children that they are valuable and worth their time, Klysen said.
When a parent communicates with a counselor, it can also help determine whether the child is experiencing a mental health condition or whether the problem is environmental, Klysen said.
Even if a child achieves all of his mental health goals, a parent who is constantly stressed or living with an undiagnosed mental health condition can undo his progress.
“Kids are smart. They know when their parents are in trouble,” Klysen said.
In other words, parents can sometimes benefit from counseling as well.
Tips for parents to get more involved in counseling
The airplane oxygen mask rule applies to good emotional well-being practices between caregiver and child. Prioritizing one’s mental health, Klysen said, is the best first step a parent can take to be present for their child.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines several ways for parents to ease the burdens of the day, which include taking breaks to relax and unwind through yoga, music, meditation, and new hobbies; connecting with family and friends; eat healthy food and sleep more; and exercise, whether that looks like walking, running, cycling or lifting weights.
Additionally, Christina Gingle, associate director of student services at Green Bay Public Schools, said that for parents accessing counseling for their children, the process can be “intimidating.” She often tells parents concerned about their child’s mental well-being to communicate with school staff.
“The student services staff is a great place to start because we can help them navigate those kinds of things,” Gingle said.
Some of those “things” include providing a list of resources that accept medical help.
She also recommended that parents check out the Brown County Mental Health Navigation Guide, which shows where to go for preventive mental health care. The navigation guide also describes the stages of intervention when a mental health condition worsens.
In addition, Klysen said that on days when their child has a counseling session, the parent can ask if there is anything they talked about during the meeting that they would be willing to share.
The foundations also offer parent-only sessions, which can help counselors gain a better understanding of the behaviors parents are seeing in their child when they’re not in session—with the caveat that counselors typically don’t reveal details that the client is sharing. .
“Their trust is important to the therapeutic relationship,” Klysen said. “If kids think we’re going to talk to their parents about the things they’re talking about, they’re not going to talk to us.”
Learn more information on ways to get involved through the following resources:
- My Connection NEW connects parents with nearby agencies, facilities and programs throughout Brown, Calumet, Outagamie and Winnebago counties.
- Brown County 211 is a one-stop shop for information, community resources and referrals for a variety of health and human service issues. Call 2-1-1 or text your zip code to 898211.
- Family Services Crisis Center is a 24/7 crisis intervention service in Green Bay. Brown County residents can call (920) 436-8888 anytime for assistance.
Natalie Eilbert covers mental health issues for the USA TODAY NETWORK-CENTRAL WISCONSIN. She welcomes tips and comments on the story. You can contact her at [email protected] or check out her Twitter profile at @natalie_eilbert. If you or someone you know is dealing with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or text Hopeline to the national crisis text line at 741-741.