Integrated mental health services help Minnesota kids

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Now, the clinic has a built-in mechanism to help, with Christensen and Corrieri on staff.

Christensen said integrated behavioral health cuts through stigma surrounding mental health issues.

“The providers here have such great connections with their patients,” Christensen said. She and Corrieri can piggyback off that connection when doctors refer them patients.

“It just seems very seamless. The patient feels comfortable. … They know this place. They know how the system works.”

In her previous job, she could see the gaps in the system.

“People … would fall through the cracks,” Christensen said.

It can be difficult to follow through. What kind of services do they need? Where do they get them? How will they pay? Then, they often face a long waiting list.

At Sartell Pediatric, those questions are easily answered and families can even meet Corrieri or Christensen right away.

They like to keep their schedules fluid so they can consult with doctors or fit in someone in crisis.

The counselors benefit from having the doctors nearby, too.

“To get a child in to see a psychiatrist is almost impossible,” Christensen said.

There’s a general shortage of psychiatrists in the area, especially ones who work with children. It can take months for an initial appointment.

Many people still think of the psychiatrist’s couch as the one and only treatment for mental illness. But there’s so much more than that.

What does therapy look like with kids?

“Super fun,” Corrieri said.

Providers use play therapy techniques or sometimes just play a game while they’re talking with a child, to lessen stress and ease communication.

Christensen is a trained cognitive behavioral therapist and incorporates play. She also educates kids on how their brains work, in a kid-friendly way.

Playing games or using silly metaphors keeps kids engaged. As they’re playing a game, they’ll talk: How are Mom and Dad doing? How’s school?

“It’s surprising how much kids will talk,” Corrieri said. “They’re thinking about beating me in Candy Land. They’re not thinking about the fact that I’ve dug into some good stuff.”

It helps lower inhibitions and lets kids talk about stuff they may not even be able to name.

“If we sit there be like, ‘Well, let’s talk about why you don’t wanna go (to school),’” Christensen said. That doesn’t work.

Christensen said it helps kids to understand what’s going on in their brain when they’re feeling scared or anxious or depressed. She starts with the amygdala.

“When your amygdala gets activated, It only knows three things,” Christensen said. Then she explains fight, flight and freeze.

“I’ll do silly examples. … If a tiger came into my room right now, our amygdalas would turn and we would think fight, flight or freeze. Would you fight the tiger or would you run? Or would you play dead?” Christensen said.

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