Increasing Access to Mental Health Services for Children

Mary Karapetian Alvord

Mary Karapetian Alvord

Mary Karapetian Alvord, PhD
Resilience Across Borders, Inc.

Mental health needs far exceed the availability and affordability of services for many individuals and families.  Approximately 25% of youth meet the criteria for a mental health disorder, and only 1 in 5 children and teens receive the care they need.  It is particularly challenging for those in under-resourced communities to access evidence-based interventions.

Resilience Across Borders, Inc, (RAB) was established to increase access to effective mental health resources and programs for those individuals who might not otherwise be served.  Fostering resilience is critical to positively adapting to trauma, stress, and challenges.  The non-profit focuses on helping children and teens to be proactive, take initiative, and feel empowered, rather than feeling helpless and like a victim.  The good news is that these skills that serve as “protective factors” can be taught!

While the work of the non-profit began in schools in January 2015, RAB was approved as a 501(c)(3) charity only two years ago—in August 2018.  We are at the beginning stages of growth.  As the founder, I wanted to put my professional passion toward sustaining interventions in high-poverty schools in the DC metro area and expanding to a national level.  The mission of the non-profit is to “enhance resilience and mental health for all through clinical practice, research, and training.”

Resilience Across Borders has set three goals to meet these mission objectives:

  1. Implementation. A collaboration between Alvord, Baker, Associates, LLC, Catholic University Psychology Department, and RAB trains clinical psychology graduate students and school counselors to implement the Resilience Builder Program® (RBP) groups with children identified by school personnel as those who would benefit from additional services. NPR came to one of the schools and reported on the program (see Selena Simmons-Duffins, May 23, 2018).  Since January 2015, we have been collecting outcome data through a randomized controlled trial in five schools. Part of the goal is to understand for whom resilience interventions are most effective and to tailor the RBP to increase positive change. Approximately 140 students were randomized across five schools to receive either RBP immediately or after a one-semester delay.  Results showed that that not only were resilience indicators such as a sense of self-mastery and interpersonal skills significantly improved, but academic indicators such as motivation and engagement were also significantly enhanced (Rich et al., 2020).
  2. Training. While the first five years were focused on “targeted” interventions for identified students, RAB hopes to create a “universal” intervention for whole classrooms. The American Psychological Association Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology awarded a grant in 2019 to RAB to train teachers to implement adapted and brief lessons to their classes. Unfortunately, with the move to virtual education in mid-March 2020 until the end of January 2021, the local school systems are not allowing virtual groups due to privacy concerns.  Therefore, the project is on hold.
  3. Technology. Our future goal aims to leverage technology to develop and enhance specific interventions. Division 46 has had a long-standing Committee on Telehealth and New Technologies since at least the 1990s, leading the way toward innovation. Telehealth decreases barriers in communities with limited access to multi-lingual or multi-culturally specific providers or limited access to specialized evidenced-based assessment and therapeutic intervention, transportation, time and scheduling, or location of services. We hope to bring the program through real-time synchronous telehealth to schools. Eventually, we want to develop asynchronous (self-paced) online programming as well.

Additionally, exposure-based Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is an efficacious treatment for clients with anxiety disorders. However, data suggests that real-world clinicians do not reliably implement exposure tasks in therapy, perhaps in part due to logistical barriers. Augmented Reality (AR) is one way to help youth face their fears in settings not possible in an office.  For example, developing AR programs for children afraid of bees would allow them to experience a gradual exposure to bees and other insects flying around them (challenging to do in an office!).

How can you help? You can help in many ways.

Please help raise awareness about the work of Resilience Across Borders. Sharing information on social media or outlets would be appreciated.  We are on Twitter @ResilienceXBdrs and Facebook.

Consider reaching out to me at to lend your expertise, whether it be web design, writing relevant blogs, developing Augmented Reality modules.

Finally, the group accepts donations to grow and make a difference in the lives of children who might not otherwise have access to these resources and interventions. You can find more information at

Together we make a difference!


Rich, B. A., Shiffrin, N.D., Senior, C., Zarger, M. A., Cummings, C. M., Collado. A., & Alvord, M. K. (2020). Improved academics and resilience following a school-based resilience intervention: A randomized controlled trial [Manuscript submitted for publication]. Department of Psychology, Catholic University of America.

(Editors’ Note: Mary Karapetian Alvord received the 2020 Distinguished Lifetime Contribution to Media Psychology & Technology Award from the APA Society for Media Psychology & Technology.)

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