School-Based Mental Health Participant Finds Hope and Healing With Persistence and Support
Emily was a smart and outgoing elementary school student. She was so high achieving that her teacher was initially reluctant to refer her to Hlub Zoo (pronounced LOO-ZHONG), Wilder’s school-based mental health service for students of Hmong and Southeast Asian descent. However, Emily had emotional breakdowns that led her teacher and others at school to suspect she had an unmet mental health need.
Emily began meeting with Mary Her, a Wilder therapist who works in Hlub Zoo. They met regularly for 1 ½ years before Emily developed enough trust to share with Mary about the trauma she was experiencing. Mary told Emily that no matter what happened, “Ms. Her is here for you, and I will not let you go through this issue alone. We’ll figure it out together.”
Supporting Mental Health with Culturally Responsive Care
Through Hlub Zoo, Mary provides culturally responsive therapy to students like Emily from a welcoming office in a Saint Paul elementary school. Her role in creating a culturally responsive environment that supports mental wellness begins long before a student comes to her office for a meeting.
Mary works with teachers and staff to understand how trauma and mental health symptoms affect students and classrooms. She helps families who may feel a stigma about mental health care to feel comfortable with services, a process that can take more than one meeting or conversation. “That is why it’s so beautiful to have a therapist who looks like them,” says Mary, who is Hmong.
Working directly with students, Mary helps her clients learn to manage their emotions, recover from trauma and feel pride in their cultural identity. “The kids are doing the work,” Mary says. “We provide guidance and the space for them to process and to build their confidence and self-esteem. If they can transfer it into the classroom and into their lives, they’re going to be successful.”
Growth Continues Through Counseling and Persistence
After Emily told Mary about her situation, family tensions led her to stop seeing Mary for therapy. Through Emily’s persistence, she was able to resume counseling with Mary and continued services throughout elementary school and after she began middle school. Eventually, Emily moved on with her life.
Recently, Emily reached out to Mary. She is now in high school and maintains a high grade point average. Though Emily is not close to graduating, she knows that she is interested in attending college to study brain science because of the work she did with Mary.
She also told Mary that she understands how to find the support that she needs to continue healing. “Thank you for never giving up on me,” she told Mary. “You kept your promise. It was through the hardest time in my life that you stood by me.”
Emily’s name and identifying information have been changed to protect her privacy.
Photo: Mary Her provides mental health services from her office at Mississippi Creative Arts School in Saint Paul.