How does that make you feel?

Chronicle Staff

When the eponymous character of the television show “Felicity” began seeing a therapist, Janine Shelby noticed an increase in the number of young people seeking therapy.

As Director of Child Psychology at Harbor-UCLA, Shelby constantly deals with the therapy issues of teenagers, which range from ADHD to substance abuse. However, Shelby is hesitant to paint a picture of therapy that includes a leather lounge and a bearded Freudian figure. In fact, therapy can manifest itself in a variety of ways whether in or out of school.

School Psychologist Sheila Siegel points out that the school offers a more “traditional” approach. School counselors see students with problems such as general stress regarding school or friends and family problems, yet in many instances the problems can range from depression to eating disorders to even suicide.

“We usually deal with small everyday ‘drama’ on our own,” explained school counselor Luba Bek. Sometimes the psychologists offer referrals to outside theraptists.

“Although we do not exist in a vacuum, students have their parents who are their primary system of support and care.,” Bek said. “We do respond immediately to any issues dealing with danger to self or others and immediate crises.”

“Some have depression or major anxiety and those are psychiatric diagnosis,” Siegel said.

In addition to Siegel and Bek, Chaplains Rabbi Emily Feigenson at the Middle School and Father J. Young at the Upper School are part of the counseling team.

Teenagers can participate in family therapy with their parents, group therapy with their peers, such as Peer Support, or one on one therapy. Many people who come to see the school counselors have issues that are much more mundane. Siegel mentioned that you can go to therapy even if “you break up with somebody and you can’t get over it or you can’t get along with your parents.”

Even in the less severe cases, the school often refers students to outside help. Siegel and Bek both see a relatively small number of students on a regular basis.

“The problem with doing therapy in school is that it’s often more erratic,” Siegel said.

“We have a list of therapists with whom we have worked in the past available, but we give out the names only if parents ask for them,” Bek said. “Typically, if a student needs some help on a long-term basis, we suggest to the parents to take their child for an assessment to an outside therapist and go with the suggestion he or she makes.”

If students can’t afford outside therapy or they don’t wish to speak to their parents about their problem, the counselors will see them in school. In addition to therapy with Siegel, the school sponsors various support groups, the most popular being Peer Support

“Peer Support is not designed to solve any psychological problems,” Bek said.

“It is more of a peer counseling program for those who need a safe and comfortable place to ‘vent’ and talk to their peers in a supportive environment about a variety of issues and problems, not all of which are ‘issues.’”

Leaders and trainees are trained in techniques that can help students become more comfortable with a certain situation.

“I think people have become attracted to Peer Support because it’s a safe environment,” Kurt Kanazawa ’07, a Peer Support coordinator said. “It’s a place where people let their guard down.”

Although school counselors and Peer Support coordinators are bound by strict confidentiality, they must alert a higher authority if a student poses the risk of being harmful to himself or others.

“The leaders are trained to recognize ‘red flag’ issues that signal a specific student needs more help than Peer Support can provide,” Bek said.

The three red flag issues come up when a student is being hurt, when they are hurting themselves, or when they are hurting someone else.

Other groups include the Crisis and Support Team, which addresses grief-stricken students, and Project 10, a small private group for gay and lesbian students where anonymity is guaranteed.

Outside of school therapists can provide more options for students. Some can prescribe medication for teenagers whose problems are diagnosed. Shelby had a private practice before working at UCLA and many teenagers she saw were either encouraged or forced to come by parents, schools and, in some cases, friends.

There is an initial apprehension when students first come to therapy.

“Sometimes they are afraid of what the therapist would tell their parents, teachers, or friends, [they doubt] the limits of confidentiality,” Shelby said.

Many students worry that going to therapy is not normal.

“Lots of people go into therapy,” Siegel said. “Sometimes therapy is just learning about yourself, and that’s not a mental condition.”