Parent Series – Part III: Zooming Out and Falling Forward
College. It’s supposed to be all about fun and independence. But what happens when the novelty of moving to campus has faded and the reality of classes and responsibilities sets-in? Students with academic and mental health challenges struggling need a supportive team of adults, which can be the difference between academic success and academic probation. In this final post of the series, I discuss the importance of taking a team-based approach to supporting your child this semester.
A Team-Based Approach
The ideal format for a ‘team-based approach’ includes all of the active stakeholders involved in helping your son or daughter succeed during the semester.
This doesn’t have to be a formal team. I often simply invite everyone to a regular conference call. So who’s included in this conspiracy of care?
First, we want an academic representative. This person could be a super-engaged faculty member, someone in disability services, or just an academic advisor. This person can provide insights and updates from within the academic portion of your college student’s university experience.
Next, we need healthcare professionals. This person could be a CAPS counselor, an individual therapist from the community, or a psychiatrist providing medication management. Sometimes, having a previous therapist or psychiatrist participate for a few conference calls early in the semester can help transition care to healthcare providers close to campus.
We also want parents involved and viewed as part of the team. Parents often consider themselves ‘case managers,’ meaning they believe their job is to set up all the professionals and then get out of the way. On the contrary, parents must have at least a minimally-active role.
Finally, I want the college student to consider themselves part of this team. This encourages self-advocacy as well as a sense of responsibility. Often, when we experience behavioral health challenges, taking care of things and acting responsibly gets compromised.
To avoid big surprises at the end of a semester (e.g., failing several classes), I encourage clients and their parents (if not all the adults, including the professionals) to participate in monthly check-in meetings. Thirty minutes on a Friday at the end of each month is an excellent investment. I often have clients pull up their online class status (e.g., Canvas, Blackboard, etc.) and give a status update on each of their classes.
What do classes have to do with mental health challenges in college? When coursework is being turned in on time, and tests grades are good, this can indicate that treatment and supports are working. When grades tank, something isn’t working. Whether it’s anxiety or depression, grades are a helpful barometer for the impact of treatment. It’s also an excellent opportunity for parents to celebrate the smaller successes occurring each month. This monthly meeting, if professionals are involved, can also be used to evaluate treatment and medication. If there are side effects of a new drug, we catch it early. If the therapist is not the right fit, we have time to find someone else.
I found the most manageable meeting format is a scheduled conference call through a conference call service so people can quickly call in and drop out without issue.
End of Semester Review
The end of semester review is best to occur after grades are submitted for the semester, but before faculty and staff leave for winter break. This is the sweet-spot of timing since we’ve got the final grades in our hands. Suppose we need to clarify something with a faculty member, update accommodations with disability services, or make a significant change for the spring. In that case, we still have access to all the professionals and university team members.
This final meeting looks at how things trended throughout the semester and what remains to be improved. Sometimes, this last meeting highlights the need for a higher level of care since behavior, grades, and clinical feedback point to trending in an unhealthy direction. In other cases, this end of semester review is a time to celebrate and examine the significant progress the college student made. It’s not a time for judgment. It’s an opportunity for assessment, reflection, and planning for the future. It’s time also to have a professional plan for the break and the following semester.
We’ve come to the end of our series. In Part I, I started with how to help your college student find help for the semester. Start early, ask professionals for a consult before signing up, and remember that rapport with a therapist is as important as their skill level.
In Part II we talked about Plan B’s and Plan A’s, since we know how vital routine, organization, and back-up plans are for college students (if not all of us). Front-loading all the planning pays dividends throughout your son or daughter’s semester. From organization to communication, we moved to figure out how best to communicate with the university. As with most bureaucracies, connecting effectively with schools requires the right paperwork – namely a consent form or something similar.
Once everyone can talk and coordinate, it’s important to establish regular contact with everyone helping your college student. Finally, we talked about an end of semester review to identify trends and plan for the upcoming break and the following semester.
When students, parents, and professionals work together and plan early, college students struggling with anxiety, depression, substance use, and motivation issues can thrive throughout the semester.
To learn more about Rob Danzman check out his profile on The Shrink Space.
Whether you’re a student looking for support, or a parent helping out your busy child, check out The Shrink Space. We have over 4,000 mental health therapists and psychiatrists across the country who specialize in working with young adults.