Psychologists have developed a wide array of research-tested interventions to treat children's anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges. Yet often children go without such services for many reasons, such as a lack of training for school-based mental health counselors.
Aaron Lyon, PhD, of the University of Washington, is working to change that. With a $12,000 Pearson Early Career Grant from the American Psychological Foundation, Lyon is conducting a pilot study in three Seattle secondary schools to determine the barriers the schools' counselors face in providing evidence-based interventions.
"The goal is to develop an intervention that fits with how school counselors practice," says Lyon, an acting assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the university's School of Medicine.
Building on interventions that have been successful elsewhere, Lyon will tailor new versions for the school context, taking into account such factors as how many counselors are on staff, how much access they have to students during the school day and how many referrals they get in a typical day.
"Public school counselors are a dedicated, competent group and we want to figure out the best ways to support them," he says.
Lyon is asking counselors to describe the mental health problems they see, the resources they lack and how much time they have for professional development. He is also asking such time-management and triage questions as, "If you have more referrals than space on your caseload, how do you decide whom to see?" and "What therapy factors do you believe are most important or likely to result in client improvement?" He will also lay the foundation for the development of a digital monitoring system to help counselors track their students' progress.
Lyon hopes his findings will inform other providers who triage children's mental health problems, such as pediatricians. Once he has completed the pilot study, Lyon plans to apply for National Institute of Mental Health funding to expand his research into other schools.
"I am driven to make sure that kids and families get services they need and that they are evidence-based and likely to be effective," says Lyon.
Read more about the Pearson Early Career Grant. The deadline for the 2013 grant is Dec. 31.