written by Naveen Kassamali, LMFT
Adverse Childhood Experiences
For those unfamiliar, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are experiences such as physical and emotional abuse, neglect, caregiver mental illness, and household violence.
The more ACEs one has experienced, the more likely the person is to have difficulty managing stress, and the more likely they are to have health and substance issues in their lives. “When a child experiences multiple ACEs over time—especially without supportive relationships with adults to provide buffering protection—the experiences will trigger an excessive and long-lasting stress response, which can have a wear-and-tear effect on the body, like revving a car engine for days or weeks at a time.”
Long term activation of stress response systems on a child’s developing brain can affect the immune system, metabolic regulatory systems, and cardiovascular system. It can also impact retention rates, as children with higher ACEs are more likely to drop out of school. According to research, having supportive relationships, participating in therapy, and reducing the child’s stress is the best way to improve outcomes.
School Counselors & the Therapeutic Relationship
A good therapeutic relationship should consist of trust, respect and congruence, which is usually missing in homes where the student is exposed to abuse, violence and/or neglect. Research shows that a therapeutic relationship is essential for change in an individual's life. When students don’t have healthy environments at home, their school counselors can step in to provide a supportive relationship and teach students coping skills for stress management. The issue is that school counselors continue to be understaffed and have limited resources. When school counselors have overwhelming caseloads, it can lead to burn out, long wait times for appointments, and difficulty teaching and tracking students’ use of coping skills over time.
Digital health solutions may be the key to navigating the limitations school counselors face.
These solutions save counselors time by teaching students coping skills through a self-guided interface and providing real-time updates to counselors about students’ health. Some of the benefits counselors receive from digital health solutions include:
Provide efficient skill building: Students will build resilience with self-guided relaxation and SEL practices. Counselors don’t need to spend months creating SEL curriculum and assigning practices to students, the digital platform does it all automatically.
Stay informed. Students’ stress, health symptoms, and engagement in SEL /self-care activities is automatically tracked on the digital platform. Counselors don’t need to create and disseminate surveys, they just need to log in to their dashboard to get real-time updates about their student body.
Provide resources outside of your area of expertise. Each counselor has different areas of expertise, which can make it hard to support diverse student bodies when you have limited staff members. Digital platforms include learning resources made from counselors and therapists across the country. If your students are exploring gender identity, they can watch video series made by gender specialists. If they are struggling with substance use in the home, they can watch videos made by an addiction counselor. With digital platforms, school counselors have unlimited access to resources made by trusted health professionals.
Reduce stigma and encourage help seeking. A major barrier that prevents students from reaching out to counselors is stigma. Hearing about a peer’s lived experience with mental health and how that peer reached out for help encourages students to do the same. Neolth, a digital platform and mobile app for students and schools, includes such “Student Stories” in their community section.
Ensure student safety with real-time referrals to crisis care. Another major hurdle for school counselors is identifying students in crisis and providing real-time referrals, especially after hours. Digital platforms can screen and identify students in crisis, providing 24/7 referrals to crisis services. Furthermore, students appreciate the privacy of using a digital platform and are more likely to utilize the crisis resources provided on an app, “It’s scary or embarrassing to ask people about crisis resources. Just having this on your phone in a really accessible way is nice.” “The app [Neolth] feels credible, so I know these are trusted resources and I feel ok using them.”
Neolth is an app that helps counselors keep track of their students between appointments. Counselors are able to monitor student stress levels, health symptoms, and level of engagement in mental health activities (SEL practices, psycho-education, and self-care). Counselors can encourage students to set weekly health goals and check if students have been meeting them. All of these activities on Neolth are self-guided, so counselors don’t need to do anything except tell their students about the app. Students have access to relaxation and SEL practices such as mindfulness, creative art, cognitive behavioral therapy, and breathing exercises. They also can use Neolth’s community section, which includes educational videos about mental health, Student Stories, livestream events, and real-time crisis care referral.
Neolth can be a great resource for school counselors in need. The best part is Neolth’s platform and services qualify for ESSER funding allocated by the Department of Education, which means K-12 schools and universities can adopt Neolth at no cost to them. Check with your state’s Department of Education for information on how to receive your funding allocation, or contact Neolth’s team of education professionals at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.