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The Power of Positive Mental Health: How Mental Health Therapy Gave the Carter Kids the Tools for Success

Story by Suzanne Carter

When our son Max’s anxiety started impacting him and our family in many hard and potentially dangerous ways, our pediatrician recommended three things – medication, comprehensive testing, and therapy. I knew immediately that the only people I would trust with something so serious was the ACCESS Evaluation and Resource Center (AERC). My children have grown up at ACCESS, and this was big and scary, but being at ACCESS made it feel like home.

Mental health therapy was the thing that made the biggest and fastest impact on Max’s life. He instantly had a “safe place” with his therapist and someone with whom he could process all of his big fears and emotions. (His therapist was and still is a household name!) Through therapy, Max learned to name his emotions, coping strategies to deal with them, and that he did not need to be fearful of his big feelings. This quickly became something that impacted our whole family. We learned strategies from Max’s therapist that helped my husband and I be better parents to Max, and to his sisters as well.

We also had our own personal safety net in his therapist. When you have a child who struggles with a mental health issue, it’s hard to navigate being the parent and also the safe place, the therapist, the teacher – all the things. Max’s mental health therapist helped us realize that our job was to be Max’s parents and to let her be there as his therapist. It was like a weight lifted – I didn’t have to figure out the root cause, the strategy, the replacement behavior, the road map. I just had to reach out to his therapist, talk through the issue, and she helped us make a plan. Max no longer attends mental health therapy weekly, because he has the tools he needs for now. We know that’s a huge testimony to him and his therapist, because that was the goal all along, to get Max what he needed to cope. We know that he can and probably will return to mental health therapy throughout the years as needed, and we are grateful to have that tool available to him through ACCESS.

Our younger daughter, Molly Margaret, started having some academic and social struggles in the third grade. Again, we knew that the AERC was the only place to help us figure out what she needed. I knew in my mama heart that we were dealing with ADHD, but I was surprised when testing uncovered some significant learning disabilities of which we were unaware. Mental health therapy was again key for our family – we had suddenly entered this world where Molly Margaret was fragile and felt defeated, but she also felt relieved to know that her struggles had a name and that she didn’t need to try to hide them anymore. The flood gates opened, and her therapy sessions became where she could process it all and make sense of some very big emotions. Molly Margaret participates in mental health therapy weekly, along with academic therapy. She looks forward to these sessions each week. Having a team that comes alongside Molly Margaret and our whole family is life changing. She is learning coping strategies, how to navigate hard social situations, and who she is as a person. As her mom, it is a privilege to watch her grow and learn. And again, we have a safety net in her therapist and can focus on being her parents.

As a tenured special educator, I know that getting services for your child is key. But as a parent I have learned that it can feel big and scary and daunting. ACCESS, the AERC, and our mental health therapists have made that feel manageable. And they have helped our kids THRIVE.