Many couples, whether they stay together or move towards divorce, face a multitude of challenges. Parenting for example is a common stressor that can contribute to a marriage’s success or breakdown. This issue can be compounded when a child has specific learning needs. In such cases, an educational therapist can assist parents by giving their child an experience of academic success. Especially around divorce, it is important for a child and their parents to feel successful.

In my 15 years of practice, the question I’ve been asked most by parents and even professionals is, what is educational therapy? While the term has become more widely used over the years, especially in Los Angeles where the Association of Educational Therapists (AET) has a strong presence, it still confuses people in its juxtaposition of the words education and therapy. Education is usually associated with teaching and tutoring whereas a therapist is someone we go to for help with emotional struggles. But the fact is, our learning is inextricably linked to our emotions. In fact, all good educators are intrinsically aware of the impact of a child’s emotional state on their learning. But an educational therapist goes a step further.

AET defines an educational therapist as “a professional who combines educational and therapeutic approaches for evaluation, remediation, case management, and communication/advocacy on behalf of children and adolescents with learning disabilities or learning problems.” In other words, educational therapy is the practice of looking at the whole child, their history, their context and environment, their learning style, their learning differences, and their learning goals.

In my own practice, I tend to focus less on a diagnostic view of students and more on a processing skills view of learning. So instead of looking at things through the lens of diagnosis (like a psychologist might) or curriculum (like most teachers do), I am concerned with how the brain develops, how learning processes can break down, and how to remediate these breakdowns. In this way educational therapy is not just for children with diagnosed learning disorders but also for those students who fall in a gray area, where their struggles are not so severe as to qualify them for a diagnosis, but who struggle nonetheless. Many parents observe the following indicators before seeking educational therapy for their child:

  • Struggles with homework and school assignments that increase as schoolwork becomes harder
  • Extreme amount of time, effort and parent support required to get homework done
  • Lack of progress in school and questions about ability to learn and benefit from school
  • Resistance to going to school or doing homework
  • Discouragement and withdrawal
  • Loss of self-esteem regarding school performance or intelligence
  • Early ear infections, delay in learning language, difficulty concentrating, focusing, or remembering
  • A diagnosed learning disability

Learning is a natural process, but like all processes, it can breakdown. Our job as educational therapists is to find the root cause of the breakdown and then support and foster students’ learning abilities and skills so that they view themselves as capable, strong, and independent learners ready to engage with the world. Educational therapy is an important and integral part of the larger mosaic of professionals involved in helping children grow. While we may work as neuro-educators, therapists, and advocates, our most important job is to act as allies of both students and their families in navigating the road to success in school and in life.

Written by: Dr. Bibinaz Pirayesh