Consultation and Mental Health Interventions in School Settings: Cultivating our Garden of Future Adults
Dr. Ester Cole and Dr. Maria Kokai discuss the release of their new 2021 book, Consultation and Mental Health Interventions in School Settings: A Scientist–Practitioner’s Guide. The interview includes topics regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, “aptly named the mental health pandemic,” as well as issues on diversity and the significance of the school system for children and adolescents in today’s uncertain climate. Watch the video for the full interview.
Changes since the Previous Edition (published in 2003) The world has changed significantly. Since 2003, there has been evidence-based research indicating the connection between academic learning and mental health. Thankfully by now, there is a growing recognition of the importance of the role schools can and should be playing in the support of mental health and wellbeing of their students.
Access to trusted information and awareness of effective practices is called for. In addition, the book’s comprehensive model provides user-friendly guidance on a continuum of services that was advocated for, and is seen now as needed more than ever. Diverse school communities require reliable service models that are meeting ever growing needs for services. School psychologists can play a significant role in meeting these needs. This book provides a continuum of examples concerning primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention, and intervention in a methodological and planned way.
Furthermore, this resource utilizes newer technologies by having online appendices and portals included in the book. Not only have we assembled the best minds and leadership in a given area, whether it be dealing with inclusive school communities, services for gifted children, but also made sure that when there is a disaster, school communities can benefit from applying the model, to plan and intervene in a timely manner. The online appendices have resources for the chapters that can be accessed; adapted locally, and shared with others to plan timely responses. The model goals advocate for the very best that school psychology can offer internationally in a just society that maximizes services for all its learners.
Fostering Children’s Mental Health In the interview, “we want to show children’s mental health as an organic factor in learning and helping kids develop and develop wings that make them productive adults in society, regardless of where they are, and who they are.”
Service providers know that it is important not to regress back to weeks where they say “children will have a week of anti-bullying”; “this is a celebration of diversity” or “this is a celebration and a week of self-esteem promotion.” These concepts must be weaved into everything that is done, and “if you have that kind of approach regardless of the educational mandate, we teach people, we teach children and adolescents, rather than subjects. If we do that, we are also going to have more active learners, who are going to develop executive problem-solving skills and learning skills that are going to be easy for them to bridge from one subject to another without giving up. It is also going to promote the kind of motivational love-of-learning, that in an era of rapid technological growth and change in professional orientations and affiliations is going to be paramount.” Generally, “if we start with the point that learning, socialization and mental health promotions are all siblings within the same family, we are also going to adjust our educational kaleidoscope and make sure that every teacher, every support staff, every leader in education, and in community services is going to keep that in mind.”
The Mental Health Pandemic The COVID pandemic has also been aptly named the mental health pandemic. “In fact, we are all learning as we go along in how to solve the casualties in the impact of the pandemic. In addition to the post-traumatic growth that needs to be acknowledged, families and people of all ages are discovering coping skills that they did not know they had. They have new appreciation for the small things and school psychologists can help people reframe the pain and make sure that they are reminded to practice self-care which is part of the healing process.”
At the same time, “we have to position ourselves as practitioners and academics, with models that are going to be learning models that are easy to implement, and our book offers the kinds of resources that are saying ‘let us try.’ We know how much we don’t know yet, but what we do know is that children need to learn and socialize with others. Children need to be gradually reintroduced to cross the bridge from Zoom learning and sessions where they see squares with other children and adults who teach them, to actually be able to communicate non-verbally and verbally; to be able to catch up on things that have been missed, not only in reading and writing, but what about the children who have special needs? What about the children who gave up periods of adolescent socialization, who only have virtual interaction with others?”
Cole and Kokai note: “We have to assume that we are all going to learn together to find problems nobody knows about, ‘none of us are as good as all of us,’ and this includes school psychologists, educators, decision makers, and leaders in the field.”
Dr. Ester Cole is a registered psychologist, with a long history in school psychology. She is currently in private practice in Ontario servicing school-age children and their families and providing consultation to educators and mental health professionals.
Dr. Maria Kokai is a registered psychologist with more than 35 years of experience in the field of school psychology, in school board as well as in private practice settings.