In helping each individual student, the O-School’s clinical interventions take an ecological approach, looking to provide support at all levels of the student’s life by fostering growth in the student and family. In doing so, the school does not attempt to “fix” the child, adolescent or young adult but instead builds a world in which they can thrive.
The O-School has a primary mission to provide carefully planned, intensive milieu therapy for students with special social-emotional needs. Milieu therapy is a method in which a safe, structured social environment – in this case, the entire O-School community – is designed to help students learn healthier ways of thinking, interacting and behaving. Milieu therapy emphasizes shared responsibility, mutual respect, healthy coping strategies and positive peer influence. This kind of social environment is fostered by all O-School staff members working in coordination with one another and is the scaffolding for the students’ educational, therapeutic and extracurricular activities.
Individual, Group and Family Therapy
Formal therapy sessions are, of course, an integral part of life at the O-School. As a key component of every child’s treatment plan, individual, group and family therapy sessions are provided on an ongoing and consistent basis. The approach taken is based on the needs and strengths of the student and the student’s family. No one approach is used across all situations.
All students participate in individual therapy provided by licensed clinical professionals or pre-doctoral psychology externs or masters-level interns (supervised by licensed clinicians). O-School professionals determine the best therapeutic approach based on a student’s target issues and presentation. Major modes of individual therapy currently provided by the O-School are:
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy — focuses on changing thought processes that are inaccurate, negativistic and self-defeating.
Relational Therapy — uses the relationship between therapist and student to create opportunities to teach skills, explore relationship patterns and delve into traumatic areas.
Psychodynamic Therapy — seeks to resolve internal emotional conflicts to improve emotional and behavioral self-regulation.
The O-School values and welcomes the involvement of every family in the therapeutic process. As such, family therapy is a critical part of each child’s treatment plan and is an expectation for everyone. Family therapy occurs a minimum of two sessions per month for 45-60 minutes, though this can be arranged individually depending on the clinical needs of each family. The presence of family therapy in our model recognizes that students’ mental health needs are best met by treating the whole person and that students are part of a family system that impacts their relational patterns, coping strategies and accumulated experiences.
Group therapy sessions have two co-leaders, are held weekly and last 60 minutes. Each session reflects considerable thought and care around the individual and group’s psychological needs and interactions. Approaches vary according to the students’ needs and include topic-focused groups (e.g., LGBTQ+, adoption, bereavement), process-focused groups, movement groups, art-making groups, transitional life skills groups, and social skills/executive functioning skills groups.
Speech and Occupational Therapy
On-site speech and occupational therapy are available for those students who require these interventions. The O-School’s speech and occupational therapists are part of the clinical team and are engrained in the therapeutic milieu. The speech and occupational therapists provide direct care and indirect consultation minutes according to each student’s IEP. They run therapy groups. They also conduct group lessons in the classroom to build executive functioning skills.
Clinical Case Management
All students receive case management services. The student’s clinical case manager communicates regularly with families and external treatment providers and helps manage daily logistics, e.g., transportation. Case managers have regular case managements calls with parents to communicate information related to school and treatment and to acquire necessary information related to home and community. Case managers establish contact with external treatment providers to maintain the continuum of care. They develop and maintain key clinical documentation to address student’s therapeutic needs, strengths and goals.
Medical Services and Psychiatric Consultation
Families provide consent to receive routine health and wellness monitoring and first aid provision by the O-School Nursing Department, under the supervision of the O-School Medical Director who is from UChicago Medicine. There is a nurse available on-site during school hours. The nurse administers medication as appropriate and monitors any health-related plans including asthma, diabetes, etc. The Medical Director supervises the school nurse and has on-call availability to manage decision-making. The Medical Director reviews any health-related care plans that require oversight during the school day.
The O-School has a collaborative relationship with the outpatient psychiatry department at Rush University Medical Center. Parents/students can give consent for the Rush psychiatrist to consult onsite to the student’s O-School team. The psychiatrist and medical fellows are at the O-School one morning every other week. Their activities, for referred students, include classroom observation and team discussions and can also include communicating with the student’s private psychiatrist and parents.
Separate from the onsite psychiatry consultation, O-School parents who want to work with an outpatient psychiatrist can access appointments at Rush that are reserved for O-School students. The outpatient psychiatry option is available to families who choose to participate. Payment for these services is entirely the responsibility of the parent/guardian. The outpatient psychiatry option is a great opportunity to access top-notch psychiatry care, readily. We are delighted we can partner with Rush to help O-School families access the care they need for their child.