SSWN Book Club: The Solutions Are In Our Schools
Schools are complicated, messy places to do school mental health work, even in the best of situations. One reason that school mental health practice can be so challenging beyond the usual factors we all think of–high caseloads, overwhelming paperwork demands, crisis intervention–is something that is all around us, sometimes so present that we don’t even see it for what it is. I’m referring to deficit-based thinking, something that was ever-present in the schools I practiced in from 1992-2006 before I started teaching. Deficit thinking in schools takes many forms:
- A team discussion about “what’s wrong” with a student and his/her family, often without that student or family present;
- A school IEP team’s emphasis on finding a SpEd label (LD, BD/ED, OHI) in order to provide services to a student;
- A group of teachers at break in the teachers’ lounge casually using DSM-V labeling language (“I think he has depression” or “I can see this student has ADHD and will benefit from meds if only their parents will take them to see a doctor”)
What’s missing from those all-too-common examples? Solutions.
Fortunately, there are solutions in schools, and many specific techniques for school clinicians to draw on to make their schools more strength-based and solution-focused. Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) is an approach that has been active since the 1980s, and 40 years later, there is a wealth of information about how to do SFBT in schools. As I wrote with colleagues Johnny Kim and Cynthia Franklin in our 2nd Edition of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy in Schools: A 360-Degree View of the Research and Practice Principles (Oxford, 2017):
Solutions, however, also abound in school settings. Second graders wake up early and tell their parents that they cannot wait to get to school so they can see their teachers and their friends. Teachers stop in the hallway to tell colleagues about a new project they are excited about starting with their students. In cafes, beauty shops, and church basements, parents encourage other parents to send their own kids to a child’s school because of all the great things that school has going for it. School leaders, in collaboration with local law enforcement, parents, and the students themselves, create zones of safety even for children living in economically distressed and dangerous neighborhoods. All the school stakeholders (teachers, parents, kids, and administrators) welcome higher accountability standards and frame them as an opportunity to foster a more collaborative and high-achieving academic culture.
Schools can be places of solutions, strengths, and successes. School- based mental health professionals (school social workers, school counselors, and school psychologists) have numerous ways to harness the solutions that are already happening in their schools.
As part of our regular SSWN Book Club series, we’re excited to offer this 1st chapter excerpt of our book free to download, and to invite you to share how you are implementing SFBT and other strength-based techniques in your practice, here and on our sister site, SSWNetwork (join SSWNetwork for free here)SFBT2ndEd.Chapter1