Plugging in to exceptional support

For decades, Interlochen Arts Academy students have traveled off or across campus for mental health support. But beginning in spring 2020, students will be able to have their therapist at their fingertips through a new telecounseling initiative.

“We decided to move to telecounseling because we have limited resources for on-site therapy, and getting to off-campus therapists is a barrier for many of our students,” said School Psychologist Dr. Michael Kern. “Over half the student body has met with a school counselor at some point this year, and we’ve logged more than 2,000 total appointments—a significant increase over the last few years.”

The Academy has partnered with Enable My Child, an online therapy provider that specializes in working with schools, to connect students with licensed therapists from across the country. Through the service, students can attend regular counseling sessions with their therapist via video chat software such as Skype, Facebook Messenger, or FaceTime.

Enable My Child’s unique combination of services and skills make them the perfect partner for Interlochen. “They understand how schools function, and they have fully licensed providers, all of whom have worked in a school setting at one point,” Kern said. “They also have a wide variety of services—including academic supports—that we may start utilizing in the future. We’re able to customize our partnership to the needs of our students.”

The telecounseling process begins with an online consultation with a caseworker from Enable My Child, who will then make a treatment recommendation and pair each patient with a best-fit therapist. Students then schedule appointments with their therapists, which can be attended from the student’s residence hall room or one of Health Services’ designated telecounseling rooms. Each session costs $74, and can be billed to the student’s insurance provider.

While telecounseling is still a new field, early research indicates that it is as effective as face-to-face sessions, especially for those living in areas with limited access to mental health professionals. For Interlochen students, telecounseling offers the advantages of greater affordability and less time spent out-of-the-classroom—a typical off-site therapy session involves both session and transportation costs and requires a student to miss two to three hours of class.

Licensed therapists will still be available on-campus, but their primary roles and responsibilities have shifted away from long-term, one-on-one support. The therapists have transitioned out of Health Services and are now members of the Academic and College Counseling team, where they will focus on crisis support, mental health education, and holistic student success.

“With the licensed therapists as part of our Academic and College Counseling team, we’ll be able to move to a short-term support model,” Kern said. “The idea is that together, we’re better positioned to help students access supports, whether that’s long-term therapy or extra math help. Moving the counseling staff into the education office also allows us to integrate the faculty and residence life staff into the student support system.”

One of Interlochen’s counselors is now teaching sections of Interlochen 101, an introductory course for incoming 9th grade students, and the department is offering various types of social-emotional training. Counselors are currently leading depression and suicide awareness and support classes for all freshmen and sophomores, and are developing an online, not-for-credit course called Learn About Yourself, which features modules on stress and anxiety. A third module, on mindfulness, is anticipated in the very near future.

While telecounseling is an important step to increasing access to mental and behavioral health support, students who require more significant interventions, such as medications, will still need to find off-campus psychiatric care. “We’re working to increase access to psychiatrists, but for now, students and their families will need to find a local provider,” Kern said.

Ultimately, Kern hopes that telecounseling and other support-system updates will enable the Academy to provide more and better support to its students. “We’re seeing many more students than we’ve seen in the past,” Kern said. “We’re revising our procedures and policies to ensure that we can serve every student in a consistent and supportive way.”