We school-based therapists are helpers:
- We help students achieve their IEP goals by providing the related services they need to function and flourish.
- We help teachers and paraprofessionals accommodate students’ needs by training them in Tier 1 interventions so they can solve more problems on their own, avoiding unnecessary referrals.
- We help each other by sharing experiences and resources, knowing our different backgrounds mean we have much to learn from one another.
Why, then, do we find it hard to ask for help for ourselves?
What barriers make support for therapists so difficult to request—and how can we overcome them?
What I Realized When the Clinical Fellow Said She Wasn’t Coming Back
At the end of my first year heading the Clinical Fellowship program here at Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), one of our ten Clinical Fellows (CFs) told me she wouldn’t be returning. She said she had no support.
I pushed back at her suggestion. Each CF in our program can turn to their assigned personal mentor, their Clinical Director, program personnel, and each other. This CF not only had support—she had multiple layers of it!
But we never got any emails, phone calls, or correspondence asking for help. Nothing from her or her mentor suggested she was struggling or needed extra support.
Why hadn’t she reached out for help, even once? Were we at fault for not programatically giving what she needed?
In the end, placing blame didn’t matter. What mattered were barriers in the system. The incident motivated me to create a “no fault” environment in the program, one in which people felt free to ask for help whenever they needed it. This culture shift ensured support for therapists became more easily accessible.
Never and Always: The Two Extremes of Asking for Help
I also started watching and listening to how people sought help in everyday life.
For example, when he’s frustrated with a device, my teenage son will say, “This thing doesn’t even work.” He’s implying he needs help, but he isn’t asking for it.
Or a therapist will call, upset about a scheduling nightmare: “No one’s being flexible! It’s impossible!”
She, too, implies she needs help but never actually asks for assistance.
Why is it hard to ask for help? Is it perceived as weakness? Do people feel they’ll be judged when they don’t know how to solve a problem by themselves?
When I work with students, early on I teach them to say, “I need help.” These words express a powerful concept.
The word “help” engages people. It gets someone to do something. Actually, it easily becomes overgeneralized because it has such a high success rate.
Some people never ask for help. Others always do.
Every time they hit even a little glitch, they immediately default to asking for help—no effort, no compensatory attempt, no problem-solving. This method quickly gets them to an outcome, but at what price?
When people guide you through a process by giving you every step, you never internalize how you arrived at the solution. How you reach a destination is a crucial part of your journey.
Why You Must Master the Essential Art of Asking for Help
Master the art of asking for help. Find the delicate balance between challenging yourself and giving yourself space to ask for help so you can grow your skill set and add more tools to your “tool belt.”
I’ve been in elementary school classrooms where children chant, “One, two, three, then ask me.” Their teacher has told them when they come across a problem or need assistance, try three things—asking a friend, attempting a different solution, simply trying again—before asking the teacher or another adult in the classroom for help.
This process offers children a chance to make a good effort at overcoming a situation. But, if they don’t succeed, it leads them to an adult who can assist. These students are learning the art of asking for help and practicing it often.
When I mentor or support another therapist who needs help, I always try to lead them to the answer, not give it to them outright. I offer useful resources and my own past experience to lead them to the resolution on their own. It’s a process by which they learn a new skill and internalize it for later use.
Let PTS’ Therapist Aid Help You Grow as a Practitioner
Before the therapists who work with us at PTS start seeing kids, we directly address this issue. It’s the first thing we tell them: They must ask for help along the way.
When you’re one of our clinicians, we don’t expect you to know it all.
We expect you’ll be overwhelmed. We expect you’ll ask for help. We’re ready, willing, and able to give it. We provide ample support for therapists.
So ask: “Can I run something by you?” “Can you take a look?” “What are your thoughts on….? “ “Can you show me how you would…?”
If you want to work with people who see you as more than a warm body to fill a staffing gap, who truly value your professional growth, consider working with PTS.
When you check out our currently open positions, know each one includes freedom and encouragement to ask for the help you need. We don’t want you suffering uncertainty and experiencing self-doubt in silence—doing that only harms your mental health and puts you at greater risk of therapist burnout.
Don’t assume you know it all. Add to your skill set. Internalize new knowledge and strategies. You’ll be a far better therapist because you were able to say, “I need help!”