July 19, 2024

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Online therapy providers see booming business from schools

2 min read

Trouble with playground bullies started for Maria Ishoo’s daughter in elementary school. Girls ganged up, calling her “fat” and “ugly.” Boys tripped and pushed her. The California mother watched her typically bubbly second-grader retreat into her bedroom and spend afternoons curled up in bed.

For Valerie Aguirre’s daughter in Hawaii, a spate of middle school “friend drama” escalated into violence and online bullying that left the 12-year-old feeling disconnected and lonely.

Both children received help through telehealth therapy, a service that schools around the country are offering in response to soaring mental health struggles among American youth.

Now at least 16 of the 20 largest U.S. public school districts are offering online therapy sessions to reach millions of students, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. In those districts alone, schools have signed provider contracts worth more than $70 million.

The growth reflects a booming new business born from America’s youth mental health crisis, which has proven so lucrative that venture capitalists are funding a new crop of school teletherapy companies. Some experts raise concerns about the quality of care offered by fast-growing tech companies.

As schools cope with shortages of in-person practitioners, however, educators say teletherapy works for many kids, and it’s meeting a massive need. For rural schools and lower-income students in particular, it has made therapy easier to access. Schools let students connect with online counselors during the school day or after hours from home.

“This is how we can prevent people from falling through the cracks,” said Ishoo, a mother of two in Lancaster, California.

Ishoo recalls standing at her second-grader’s bedroom door last year and wishing she could get through to her. “What’s wrong?” the mother would ask. The response made her heart heavy: “It’s NOTHING, Mom.”

Last spring, her school…

Jocelyn Gecker, The Associated Press

2023-12-03 18:27:12

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