Sponsored by our community partners Pain Free Life Centers
TRAILS program will help students with depression, anxiety and other challenges.
Jennifer Lovy Contributing Writer
It happens all too often; school professionals return from a workshop completely energized and ready to implement their newly acquired skills only to realize that they need ongoing guidance to most effectively apply what they’ve learned. As a result — and despite the best of intentions — workshop binders frequently end up tucked into a desk drawer or stashed away on a bookshelf.
Dr. Elizabeth Koschmann, program director for the University of Michigan’s TRAILS program (Transforming Research into Action to Improve the Lives of Students), didn’t want that to happen with the program she would ultimately create to bring cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness to Michigan schools as a way to use evidence-based practices to help students decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Above: School professionals are trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help students cope with mental health challenges.
TRAILS was launched in 2013 after several Ann Arbor schools reached out to the Depression Center at the University of Michigan. School staff members were having a difficult time handling the increasing number of students with mental health needs such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts.
Koschmann designed this grant-funded program to not only train school mental health professionals to use CBT and mindfulness but also support them by providing four months of in-school coaching as they teach these skills to small groups of students. In addition to having a coach attend meetings and give feedback and support, facilitators have access to a library of materials and resources to use in running their groups.
“School is often the only source of behavioral healthcare that these kids will get, which means that if care isn’t effective, those students are never going to get better,” said Koschmann. “They need some really useful skills in their toolbox and CBT and mindfulness can be very impactful.
“Unfortunately, we know that of the kids who have serious mental health illnesses, only about 20 percent of them are accessing treatment,” added Koschmann, who came to Ann Arbor in 2011 with her husband and sons, ages 6 and 9.
Because all schools contend with helping teens who are not getting access to the mental health care they need, the schools are logical places to put services, according to Koschmann. Locally, students at West Bloomfield and Berkley high schools can look forward to the program starting sometime in early 2019.
Thanks in part to funding from many sources, including a multi-million-dollar grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health, TRAILS will be provided, free to educators, in 100 schools throughout the state. When the program was first started, funding was $50,000. “We’ve gone from $50,000 to $5 million in five years,” according to Koschmann. TRAILS also just received a portion of the proceeds from an Oct. 27 tennis fundraiser sponsored by the George Orley Mental Wellness Initiative.
Mallory Schwartz, a licensed professional counselor and nationally certified counselor with a private practice in Bingham Farms, will be coaching the program at Berkley High School. Following her TRAILS training, Schwartz used the program with two of her clients. After measuring their anxiety and depression before and after going through the program, she noted that both teens showed “a decrease in their anxiety and a significant decrease in their depression,” and she looks forward to helping to implement it at Berkley.
“Schools have always been about caring for the whole child although in the past the emphasis has been on academics,” said Jonathan Stern, a social worker at Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, one of the first schools to get onboard with the TRAILS program.
He added: “Now, there is greater recognition of the need to address mental illness in the schools. This program is an easy way to address the mental health of our students, and it fits well within the school framework. Students carry their stress with them every day while they are at school, and it makes a great deal of sense to help them where they are struggling.”
To learn more about TRAILS, including training programs and how to bring the program to a school, visit trailstowellness.org.