GREEN BAY – Providers taking part this summer in school-based counseling across 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 issues she observes in her young clients.
Parents, Klysen said, might involve themselves in a few ways: They can ask their child if they’d like to share anything they talked about during a session, they can arrange with the provider to take part in a parent-child session if all parties agree, or, potentially, they might consider counseling independent of their child’s.
That last point, Klysen said, tends to get the biggest response, and it’s not always taken graciously.
“It’s not always just a problem that the kid has. It’s a systems issue,” Klysen said. “We’ve seen memes all over the place online about parents balking at the idea that they might need counseling when they bring their kids to see us.”
Klysen was one of the many mental health providers who took part in the first summer of school-based mental health counseling for Green Bay Area Public Schools students.
Seven Green Bay-area public schools opened their doors for the therapy sessions, allowing providers on-site to accommodate the students.
Misconceptions abound when it comes to the mental health needs of young people, according to a report from Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child. Rugged individualism, despite social messaging, doesn’t help young people face adversity; relationships between caregivers or mentors and children does make a difference.
The report works on a local level, too. The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley offers a model on the emphasis of parents’ involvement in their child’s lives. From September to November, 2021, for example, of the 133 youth sessions, 85 included parental participation.
Its 2021 report shows that, in reports by both the client and parent, 95% of young 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” forged between children and adults.
“One of the biggest protective factors in a youth’s life is the presence of at least one caring adult,” Andrew said. “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 counseled eight students in third through eighth grade either weekly or biweekly, seamlessly transitioning from the end of the school year to summer session with them.
She’s observed a few things beyond the walls of the counseling session in the process.
As children and young adults go through the motions of counseling, a parent’s participation can help show kids that they’re valuable and worth making time for, Klysen said.
When a parent communicates with a counselor, it can also help determine whether the child is experiencing a mental health condition or if the problem is environmental, Klysen said.
Even if a child hits all their mental health goals, a parent continuously stressed out or living with an undiagnosed mental health condition can potentially undo their progress.
“Kids are smart. They know when their parents are having problems,” Klysen said.
In other words, parents can sometimes benefit from counseling, too.
Tips for parents to get more involved in counseling
The oxygen mask rule on airplanes holds true for good emotional well-being practices between caregiver and child. Prioritizing one’s own 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 a few 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; eating healthy food and sleeping more; and exercising, whether that looks like walking, running, biking or lifting weights.
Additionally, Christina Gingle, associate director of pupil services at Green Bay public schools, said for parents accessing counseling for their children, the process can be “daunting.” She often tells parents concerned about their child’s mental well-being to communicate with school-based employees.
“Student services personnel is a great place to start because we can help them navigate that kind of stuff,” Gingle said.
Some of that “stuff” includes providing a list of resources that accept medical assistance.
She also recommended parents look into the Brown County Mental Health Navigation Guide, which breaks down where to go for preventative mental health care. The navigation guide also delineates 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’s anything they talked about during the appointment that they’d be willing to share.
Foundations offers parents-only sessions, too, which can help counselors get a better sense of concerning behaviors that parents are seeing in their child when not in session — with the caveat that, typically, counselors don’t disclose details that the client is sharing.
“Their trust is important to the therapeutic relationship,” Klysen said. “If kids think we’re going to blab 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 to nearby agencies, facilities and programs across Brown, Calumet, Outagamie and Winnebago counties.
- Brown County 211 is a one-stop shop for information, community resources and referrals on 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 any time to get help.
Natalie Eilbert covers mental health issues for USA TODAY NETWORK-CENTRAL WISCONSIN. She welcomes story tips and feedback. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or view 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.