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Charlotte agency offers summer therapy for students with anxiety, depression and trauma

Teenagers' sleep patterns may be a clue to their risk of depression.
MATCH therapy can help students with depression, anxiety, trauma and behavior problems.

Thompson Child and Family Focus is offering summer counseling sessions for K-12 students facing depression, anxiety, trauma and/or behavior challenges.

“The summer is a great time to engage in mental health services and kind of prepare yourself to succeed for the next year,” said clinician Ellen Wilson. “A kiddo might have experienced trauma, and then they might also be having conduct issues at school, or anxiety issues, or some depression.”

Twelve clinicians have been trained in a technique known as MATCH, developed at Harvard Medical School to help children and their caregivers cope with one or more of the common diagnoses. Nine are working in the new summer program.

In April, Wilson says, Thompson had 150 children and adolescents on a waiting list for outpatient therapy, with another 75 wait-listed for school-based therapy. But summer traditionally brings a drop in participation, and so far Wilson says the agency has struggled to find takers for the new program.

Summer can also be disruptive to students and families, as the routines and services provided at school fall away. Wilson notes the well-documented loss of academic skills during the break.

“The same goes for mental health,” she said. “Just the lack of socialization, the lack of accountability.”

For instance, she said, during the school year students may be getting support from coaches, teachers and counselors. When that stops, children and families may suffer.

The MATCH sessions are designed to provide support in a way that still has value even if a student doesn’t complete all 12 sessions. For instance, a parent might learn strategies for dealing with troubling behavior, or a child with anxiety might learn exercises for confronting fears.

“It’s an effective model for kids on a short-term basis. So even if a kiddo and a caregiver only comes for three or four sessions, they will learn new tools that they can take back with them,” she said.

Up to 12 weekly sessions are available to students ages five to 18. In-person sessions are in Charlotte but virtual counseling is available statewide. Thompson takes Medicaid and all forms of insurance, and Wilson said there’s grant money to help undocumented children get therapy. The agency will also work with uninsured families to ensure that children aren’t turned away, she said.

Wilson said that families can email therapy@thompsoncff.org and expect a response within 24 hours.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.