Helping Students Thrive
Behavioral specialist offers comfort to struggling adolescents
April 26, 2021
When walking into the Thrive Room, one is met with an ambiance unlike any other seen on the rest of campus. Lights are dimmed, while sensory lights emit a soft blue glow. Mrs. Kalinda Dixon is there ready to welcome any student who stops by. Mrs. Dixon is the behavior support specialist that works in the Thrive Room, located near the main office, a specialized room designed to be an oasis for those in need of an escape from the stressors of school.
“[The purpose of the room is] to come back to the reality of what’s going on, instead of veering off into those life stressors, or getting really tied up in a tornado effect spiraling out of control,” Mrs. Dixon said. In order to go about contacting her and becoming a regular to the Thrive Room, one must go through their counselor first.
“If [a student] needs support then, by all means, come,” Mrs. Dixon said. “But, eventually, I’m going to have to get them to their counselor. I can’t work with them on a daily basis until they get referred.” In the hierarchy of mental health outlets, the Thrive Room is one of the first places to go. For students struggling with surface-level anxiety or stress, Mrs. Dixon provides the tools to cope with those issues.
“I’m more of a skills coach for teaching coping skills… I guide [students] through mindfulness or through breathing techniques,” Mrs. Dixon explained.
When a student comes into the Thrive Room they sign-in and fill out a questionnaire, then they have time to sit and get settled before jumping into a discussion with Mrs. Dixon. She works with these students and problem solves through their unique situations, figuring out what techniques that student is using to cope, and from there trying to implement one more technique to get through whatever hardship they may be facing.
While not intended to help those in crisis situations, the Thrive Room is a place where students can unwind and find solace in their mind-numbingly hectic days. Mrs. Dixon is there to listen and help any student struggling with their mental health.
“This is a no-judgment zone,” Mrs. Dixon said. “There’s no ‘I don’t know,’ ‘You can’t say this,’ ‘You can’t say that.’ It’s on the table.”
When looking for mental health outlets at school, the counselor’s office is what most think of first. There is a stigma surrounding the counselor’s office in that it is simply a place to get a schedule changed or to obtain a transcript, but each counselor is properly trained in dealing with mental health issues all across the board. Counselor Mr. Kris Miller finds that many students do indeed seek help from their counselor.
“We do spend a lot of time on the mental health needs of students, so we’ve seen that growing over the course of the last decade,” Mr. Miller said. “It’s not many days and not many weeks go by where I don’t have a crisis [to deal with].”
There are many ways to go about contacting a counselor, such as using the QR codes posted around the building or even just stopping in during passing periods. Someone will always be available to help. A majority of the staff in the counselor’s office is equipped to handle the many situations that may arise in regards to a student’s mental health.
“We’ve all had some training, but different members of our team have different varying levels of that background,” Mr. Miller said. “About half of us come from mental health backgrounds, a couple of people in our department are licensed therapists and licensed clinical social workers.”
Mr. Miller himself was a mental health counselor who worked with adolescents dealing with drug and alcohol problems. However, there does come a point where the school-provided counselors are unable to assist with a student’s problems, such as when that student is in danger of harm, or if what the counselor is providing is simply not enough.
“We are not therapists, I can sit and help a student periodically… but anything beyond the occasional check- in, we’re probably going to be limited, just because of the amount of other things we have to do,” Mr. Miller said.
Beyond the school resources, there are many things a student can do to reach out and get help. There are hotlines, online resources, and therapists that are all readily available to the public. Licensed professional counselor, Celeste Daiber, explains how one can go about finding the right therapist.
“It will depend on a lot of factors… like insurance and availability and personal preferences,” Daiber said. “PsychologyToday.com has an excellent find a therapist search engine that might be very helpful, especially if you have to work within insurance constraints.”
For those in immediate crisis situations, she recommends a multitude of hotlines, such as the Youth Connection hotlines, the SAMSA National Health hotlines, and the Disaster Distress Helpline. Sometimes hotlines are the only means of aid one can receive at the moment.
“I prefer face-to-face [therapy], but sometimes that’s not feasible,” Daiber said. “If you feel as though you’re in danger, like immediate danger, getting yourself in front of professionals ASAP is going to be the first step.”
There is a wide range of therapists available, each often specializes in a specific area.
“There are different modalities of therapy that will treat different issues… [for example] there are therapists that specialize in eating disorders… there’s a lot of different ways to go about presenting in therapy or therapy modalities,” Daiber said.
Daiber personally specializes in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy), which is therapy specifically for trauma situations. Through these different avenues of issues, there are different avenues of assistance.
“Education is a part of therapy very often… it depends on the person and their style of learning,” Daiber said. “I do a lot with hands-on, physicalizing things, we work on a lot of coping tools. There’s no wrong way to go about [seeking help]… the only wrong way is to not do anything,” Daiber said.
Whether speaking to the school counselors, spending an hour in the Thrive room, or contacting a professional therapist, seeking help for mental health is an incredibly important step. With as many outlets and resources as there are available to students, they should never feel lost in where to go.
“We really want to help these kids, we want them to have somebody to listen to them,” Mr. Miller said. “I always tell my students that if they have nowhere else to turn in the building… or get support from, come to me.”
Students should know that it’s always okay to reach out for help.
“I know [students] probably hear this a lot, but it’s okay if you’re struggling to be vulnerable, to be transparent,” Mrs. Dixon said. “If you’re not able to cope with whatever it is that you’re dealing with by yourself, there’s always help, my doors are always open.”
Students should never feel as though their mental health should come second.
“It’s not like you’re weak [or] you’re dramatic, you know the labels that adults want to put on adolescents,” Daiber said. “You don’t need to be fixed. You need to be heard.”