Many of us don’t consider or properly treat our mental health until we’re adults. This could be due to social stigma, cultural notions about mental health, or lack of education around its importance. However, the biggest barrier to care, is often accessibility.

To paint of a picture of access to mental health resources for youth, consider our public education system in the U.S. There are 6 million schools that have police officers but no school psychologists, and 10 million schools that have police officers but no social workers (Source: U.S. Department of Education, Civil Rights Data Collection, 2015-16). Even the schools that do have counselors and psychologists and are able to offer these services, are typically not equipped to provide the individual support students deserve.

Enter: Christina Guilbeau. Christina studied psychology at Amherst College and went on to teach sixth and seventh-grade math with Teach for America in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As many new teachers do, she experienced burnout after a couple years in the classroom but still wanted to make an impact on the lives of young people and turn the tide on these discouraging statistics.

As a recent grad from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Christina harnessed her analytical skills, business acumen, and her passion for getting youth the support they deserve and founded the organization Hopebound. Hopebound serves all adolescents, as mental health struggles do not discriminate, with a focus on serving particularly vulnerable adolescents, which includes those who:

  • Are people of color
  • Are low-income
  • Are LGBTQIA+
  • Are experiencing homelessness
  • Are involved in the foster care system
  • Are involved in the juvenile justice system

I was eager to learn more about the role mental health has played in Christina’s life, and about her work building Hopebound from the ground up.

A Conversation with Christina Guilbeau, Founder of Hopebound

Walk us through your journey with Hopebound. What were your motivations for starting an organization focused on mental health for adolescents?

Hopebound was born out of a belief that all adolescents in need should be able to access quality mental health support. My primary motivation for starting the organization came from the lives of my students who struggled with their mental health. For many of them, therapy was a luxury and was also highly-stigmatized.

I myself had benefited from easily accessible therapy in college, something I more or less took for granted. When I learned that 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by the age of fourteen and that fourteen million students in the U.S. attend schools with police but no mental health staff, I was determined to make school-based mental health support more accessible to vulnerable adolescents.

I knew that the supply of mental health clinicians was an issue, and from my experience acting as a quasi-therapist for my students with no formal training or education, I didn’t want to leverage a base of volunteers. At the time, I had friends and family in clinical psychology, social work, and marriage and family therapy graduate programs. I learned of some of their pre-licensure pain points and decided to tap into the supply of the thousands of master’s and doctoral level clinicians who were highly motivated and formally educated, but often struggled to earn sufficient hours with clients.

Most programs require between 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical work before licensure, and clients pay little to no fees for their services. Research shows that mental health clinician interns can be as effective as fully-licensed clinicians due to the recency of their education and the frequency with which they receive feedback (interns meet with a licensed supervisor to receive guidance for an hour weekly).

Hopebound connects budget-constrained organizations that serve adolescents in need of one-on-one mental health support with mental health clinician interns in need of clinical hours. The model has always been teletherapy, in order to improve accessibility, convenience, and cost-effectiveness. Research demonstrates that video-based therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy and that many adolescents of the current generation prefer it. However, when possible, clinicians meet with their client in person for the first session to establish rapport before shifting to being fully virtual.

What’s something that has surprised you as you've begun to build this organization?

I think I’ve been surprised by how many parents and guardians were extremely open to seeking therapy for their children. I was told more times than I can count to serve young adults instead of adolescents because of the issue of caregiver consent and that many parents would push back. I have run into that a few times, but so far, the majority of parents have approached it as if their child needed help with math and they had the opportunity to get them a tutor. It will be interesting to see how that changes as we scale and serve more children.

What is your long-term vision for Hopebound?

My long-term vision for Hopebound is that it becomes the go-to option for public schools, after school programs, and other organizations that serve adolescents when they do not have the budget to hire fully licensed mental health professionals that can serve all the children who need support. Similarly, I would want Hopebound to be one of the go-to options for graduate schools for students to earn their clinical hours. While my primary mission is to make mental health support more accessible to adolescents, I secondarily want to do what I can to make the process of earning a license to be a mental health clinician less of a hassle.

What do mental health and mental wellness mean to you?

I often try to remind myself and others that everyone has mental health, but for many, the struggle of obtaining mental wellness is a life-long challenge. I think of mental wellness as having the ability to cope with and manage life’s everyday stressors, as well as the inevitable major events (both positive and negative) that occur in one’s life. However, I don’t believe that one needs to be self-sufficient in doing this—a very important coping skill is knowing how and when to ask for help.

Tell me about your mental wellness regimen. What do you do for self-care?

This is an ever-evolving process for me. These days, it’s wonderful how much self-care is talked about, but it can sometimes feel overwhelming to determine what it means to you.

A very important part of my mental wellness regimen is therapy. I think of that hour every week as a time to process my feelings with a trusted and skilled confidant who knows me well and is aiming to constantly add more tools to my tool belt so that I can better navigate the world outside of those sacred sessions.

My faith is also extremely important to me and has strengthened over the past several years. When I’m feeling anxious and overwhelmed, my relationship with God allows me to surrender and realize how much is out of my control. Spending quality time with the people I love, setting boundaries around work, taking time to move and get outside, and eating well are also all core parts of my mental wellness regimen. Note that I strongly believe eating dessert is also considered self-care!

Mental health can be difficult for people to talk about, and the stigma still keeps a lot of people from getting the care they need. How do the teens in your program talk about their own mental health?

It’s been encouraging to see a few teens advocating for themselves and asking their parents to sign them up for therapy through Hopebound. I definitely think that as mental health is being talked about more, the stigma is gradually decreasing. I hope that as accessibility improves and more people experience therapy and its positive effects, it won’t be viewed as taboo or something of which one should be ashamed.

What do you wish more people knew about therapy?

I wish more people knew that nothing is “wrong” with you if you go to therapy. When I was a Peer Mentor in business school, my supervisor encouraged us to tell our mentees that going to therapy is like having an executive coach as a CEO. It’s an amazing opportunity to have someone solely dedicated to you bettering yourself—you don’t need to reciprocate. Also, if the first therapist you see is not a fit, try again if it’s clear it won’t work after a few sessions. It’s worth it to find someone that’s a match.

Thanks for chatting with me! I’m excited to follow your work with Hopebound.

Of course! It’s my pleasure to share my story with Two Chairs. I love that you use human stories and education to demystify and destigmatize therapy. I can also appreciate how much Two Chairs emphasizes a good therapist-client match because as Hopebound grows, I want to ensure that our adolescent clients have the opportunity to “shop around” and find their best match too.

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