Piedmont Unified’s Wellness Center Promotes Social-Emotional Health of Middle and High School Students Through Counseling and Other Services

By Alisa Crovetti, Ph.D.

The Piedmont Unified Wellness Center was founded in 2007 in response to findings from a self-study that revealed a need for the district to address social and emotional well-being of our high school students.  At its inception, the Wellness Center served mainly high school students, but within a few years,  services rapidly expanded to middle school students and, last year, to pre-school students with mental health needs.  The Wellness Center addresses student social-emotional health through counseling services, leadership programs, and health education.  Our counseling services include individual, group, and family therapy, lunch time activity groups, and psychoeducational workshops such as the popular Tea, Treats, and Tests in which students have the opportunity to meet with Wellness Center Interns and learn strategies for managing test taking anxiety.

WC StaffWellness Center counseling services are provided by graduate and post-graduate students who are accruing supervised hours toward mental health licensure as psychologists or master’s level therapists or social workers.  Many stay with the Wellness Center for multiple years, allowing for long-term relationships to develop with students.  Interns are supervised by the Center’s Clinical Supervisor, who is a licensed psychologist, and, before her work at the Wellness Center, served as a district school psychologist at Piedmont and Millennium High Schools.  The interns receive weekly individual and group supervision, and as part of their training,  also have regular opportunities to consult with licensed psychologists, therapists, and psychiatrists from the community who provide specialized trainings and case consultation on site at the Wellness Center.

In past years trainings have focused on topics such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for depression and anxiety in adolescents; Solution-Focused Therapy techniques; substance abuse and brain development in adolescents; prevention and intervention for self-injurious behavior, prevention and treatment for eating disorders; supporting gay, lesbian, transgender, and questioning youth through counseling; counseling techniques to support social skills development in youth with autism spectrum disorder; and suicide prevention.

Students at the high school level make their way to Wellness Center counseling through one of several referral channels. For example, a majority of our high school students are self-referred and drop in for support around a variety of issues including social, academic, or family stress.  Other students might be referred by a teacher, counselor, parent, or Individual Education Plan (IEP) team.  Our students look out for each other: a student being brought in by a concerned friend is a familiar scenario for Wellness Center staff.  Once a student connects with a Wellness Center intern therapist, he or she and the intern therapist work together on goals and a plan for future visits.  For some students, counseling means weekly sessions over a period of time, while for others it might be monthly check-in meetings or only one or two focused sessions.  While our intern therapists provide confidential services (except in cases of suspected child abuse, suicide risk, or risk of harm to others), they always encourage student clients to connect with their parents about issues discussed in counseling, and, for many of our clients who agree to it, provide family sessions or consult with parents to support the student.  When needed, our counselors connect students and their families with mental health specialists in the community and collaborate with these specialists to best provide support for the students.

While early in the years of the Wellness Center, middle school students met with their intern therapists in an administrative office, since 2013 they have been able to meet with their therapists in a dedicated counseling room at PMS.  Thanks to the creativity of the Wellness Center intern therapists, this previously dedicated storage room has been converted into an inviting and playful space for PMS students to use games, art, and other play materials during counseling sessions.  The counseling space for high school students, located on the PHS campus, also has seen a transformation since 2007.  Thanks to the generous donation from MB Jessee, in 2012 the industrial white walls were re-painted with calming colors to help reinforce the idea that this is a space for students to relax and take a break that is distanced from the pressures of school.  High school students also now enjoy a warm and inviting waiting area, complete with comfortable sofas and chairs, a Zen fountain, resource materials such as a Wellness Center-created handout on study strategies and managing test-taking anxiety, joke books, a guitar for strumming, and a friendly administrative assistant who passes out tea, treats, and mindfulness coloring pages with colored pencils.  Many students make use of this waiting area during lunch and free periods, even those who do not regularly meet with an intern therapist.

At the end of each school year, we survey our students for feedback.  We have made improvements every year based on student suggestions. Consistent positive feedback has provided us reassurance that the Wellness Center is a critical part of supporting PUSD students’ emotional and social well-being.  “Talking with people [at the Wellness Center] always give me a new perspective, whether it be my problems or something good,” according to an anonymous student.

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