When I tell people I am an educational therapist, they ask, “What is that?”
An educational therapist understands the academic, neurological, and emotional components of learning. This distinguishes us from tutors who often focus on completion of school assignments or building skills in specific subject areas. An educational therapist “is a professional who combines educational and therapeutic approaches for evaluation, remediation, case management and communication/advocacy on behalf of children, adolescents, and adults with learning disabilities or learning problems. These problems include, but are not limited to, dyslexia, attention deficit disorders, reading, writing, language or math disabilities, low motivation levels, low academic self-esteem, and poor social, organizational, and study skills.” (Association of Educational Therapists, a national professional organization)
Who are my students?
Students in my practice span a wide age range, and consequently, the academic skills that fall within elementary school through college levels. I assess students for academic skill, and conduct diagnostic teaching sessions to determine the “breakdown” points. My strength is in teaching reading, writing, and math at the elementary school level and most of my students are in the third through sixth grades. My passion is teaching writing, to help students find their voices.
Connecting Thoughts, Emotional States, and Learning
I create a safe place for discovery and I remain curious about what makes it difficult for a student to learn. I gently examine, with the student, what may be blocking the way. My role as an educational therapist is to help students to understand the connection between their thoughts, their emotional states, and their learning. How a student thinks about and “frames” his/her experiences in school can have a strong effect on learning. Often, re-framing the way a student perceives academic struggles, opens up a path to address the very thing that causes frustration, avoidance, anxiety, or fear in learning situations. These techniques, although therapeutic in nature, do not constitute therapy.
So much of our world is filled with stimuli, and many students can be quite sensitive to this. I believe relaxation and mindfulness techniques are skills students must have to improve their focus and clarity, and thus increase their learning potential. I teach students about their mind-body connection so that they can recognize and reduce their anxiety. Students learn to calm themselves and become more mindful of their body’s signals so that learning can be maximized. My students work to develop a set of self-calming and soothing activities.
My students get used to hearing me say, “What makes your brain happy?” We often have conversations about how the brain functions, and in particular, how a student’s brain works. Do images make more sense to you than printed words? Do you need to hear information more than see it? What happens when you get “brain freeze” during a test and how do we work around that? We try to determine what happens inside our skulls and what current research tells us about how our brains function. Discussions like these help students with atypical learning styles to begin to recognize what it takes for them to learn effectively. Once students accept their brain’s strengths and weaknesses, they begin to utilize compensatory strategies and advocate for themselves. If students know what their brains do well and what their brains struggle with, they can work toward developing their own set of compensatory strategies.
Most importantly, I approach learning as a form of play, and I invite students to have fun acquiring new skills and information. We do this by learning to give ourselves permission to make mistakes, to feel that we do not need to do things perfectly, and to become keen, curious observers for the sake of exploration and discovery.
If you are a parent of a child who may benefit from educational therapy, please contact me.