It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is nearly upon us. I’m not sure I’m completely ready for the slew of family gatherings, holiday parties, and final papers that usher in the coming season. It is also “prime time” for counselors and school psychologists as my supervisors and the special education director at my school reminded me again today. The holidays bring all sorts of relational and economic stress for families. At the same time, students who have not been performing well over the semester start to realize how far behind they are, ninth graders notice that high school is not as fun or as easy as they originally thought, seniors discover that they should have started their college applications earlier, and mid-year exams loom. School staff is not immune to the craziness of the holidays, and unwittingly transmit this stress to students. Some children and adolescents dread the holidays and the inevitable loneliness, conflict, and/or confusion that accompany their family events.
While I might have expected elementary school students to act out or manifest their anxiety about the upcoming season in unproductive ways (as happened at my site last year), I had not thought about this time being difficult for adolescents as well. Today was a reminder of the future stresses that wait just around the corner; students in my boys’ counseling group spoke at a high volume than usual and fought voraciously over the existence of Santa Claus. School politics and rumors permeated the teachers’ lounges, and a group of 11th and 12th grade students broke down in tears. Special education referrals are rising sharply, as are parent phone calls and mental health crisis meetings. The need for mental health prevention and intervention – and the support of school psychologists, is exacerbated. As I am preparing to “ride the wave” of emotions (as Dialectal Behavioral Therapy founder Marsha Linehan puts it), I feel deeply grateful for the counseling and student management skills I have learned from classmates, professors, and supervisors thus far. Thanks to their support and encouragement, I feel ready to support and encourage my students. And….as country singer Travis Tritt reminds us, “it’s a great day to be alive!” despite the intersection of challenges that the season presents. I am thankful for the reminder, especially on days like today. Happy Thanksgiving!