Vail Mind Center helps families seek kid-friendly treatment for childhood behavioral health issues
Eagle County residents know the narrative all too well: there are just some services our small community doesn’t offer. Whether it be car dealers, specialty shopping or something else, sometimes a trip to Glenwood Springs, Denver or beyond is necessary.
The Vail Mind Center has been changing that for children’s mental and behavioral health services since the spring of 2019.
The Edwards therapy provider, which accepts Medicaid, offers diagnostic and treatment services for a wide range of childhood “challenges,” as Founder and CEO Paul Graf calls them: ADHD, ADD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, learning disabilities and mood disorders. In an inviting, colorful space complete with a sensory gym, art therapy classroom and specialized therapy rooms for speech, behavior and life skills, children aged 0 to 21 and parents are able to receive care for diagnoses not treated by many other providers in the Vail Valley.
Seeking treatment is especially important now, Graf said, because those type of challenges often start to percolate after the very beginning of the school year. Now is the time when behavioral, psychological and learning challenges start to come to the surface, and it’s important to address those things quickly, he said, encouraging parents to contact Vail Mind Center.
Graf has a child with one of these challenges, and decided to open Vail Mind Center specifically to help other local parents in the same situation.
“It was very difficult to get an assessment and diagnosis, and then once we did, to find treatment here. It was practically impossible. That really opened my eyes to the landscape here of how hard it is to find services,” he said.
And now that he has created a local treatment option, he encourages parents to seek treatment for their child sooner rather than later. He said some challenges that teenagers and even adults face — like depression, self-esteem issues and substance abuse — are often tied to “unaddressed issues from their earlier childhood.”
The waiting list at Vail Mind Center, he said, is about two weeks. At Denver-area pediatric providers, waitlists can be as long as six months, and some families drive from the Front Range specifically to receive a diagnosis in Vail sooner than they would have closer to home.
Calling diagnoses like ADHD, dyslexia, autism and speech disorders challenges rather than problems is important to Graf and the whole team of therapists and specialists that work at Vail Mind Center.
“I think one of the issues is that all these kids face, and we all do, frankly, as a society, is the stigma around behavioral health and mental health issues,” he said. “I feel it’s just more inclusive and understanding if you can discuss it in a way that is not stigmatizing.”
To that end, Graf was able to use his background in entrepreneurship to hire eight staff members, including an art therapist, a speech therapist and more.
“They’re super positive and upbeat and really fun and so patient. I’m really blown away with the quality of the care that they give, and their whole attitude,” he said.
Some incoming children may have already received a diagnosis from a primary pediatrician, who then referred the family to seek treatment at the Vail Mind Center. Kids without a diagnosis, regardless of if they’ve been referred by a school counselor or parents have sought treatment on their own, will first start in a session with Dr. Julie Rinaldi, psychologist and clinical director. After Dr. Rinaldi identifies what the challenge is and issues a diagnosis, the child will begin treatment.
Like everything, the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up the way Vail Mind Center conducts that therapy. Telehealth counseling has soared in popularity for a number of reasons: people are more willing and able to accept a virtual session since stay-at-home orders, plus barriers for providers offering telehealth services came down rapidly. Accessibility has increased, and it’s been incredibly beneficial for both the children and their parents.
“You don’t need a facility, per se, you just need a good therapist and internet connection,” Graf said.
As parents sit with their child and help facilitate the Zoom session, they are forced to engage with treatment that much more.
“A lot of it’s not just what the therapist is doing with the child, it’s what the therapist is teaching and training the parents to understand,” Graf said. “Empowering them to be in control is a huge factor.”
The Vail Mind Center sees kids coming all the way from Fairplay, so telehealth makes therapy more accessible to patients far away, and Graf also thinks telehealth will be very useful in the winter, when unsafe road conditions can sometimes lead to patient cancelations.
The Vail Mind Center is still offering in-person sessions: masks are required for all patients, parents and staff indoors, and therapists will see only one child at a time. Any and all surfaces touched or toys played with are disinfected after use, and family-to-family contact is completely eliminated with only one child at a time. Plus, it increases patient confidentiality, since families are not seeing each other on the way in and out.
“We are very strict about our privacy practices and anonymity,” he said, noting that there is a back door that families can use to exit the building after their session.
As for the space itself, Graf and his team have worked hard to create a space that kids will actually enjoy being in for the duration of their treatment. The sensory gym is the focal piece of the space, complete with a short climbing wall, swings, ladders and trampolines. The therapy rooms and waiting room feature colorful furniture designed to help make therapy less of a scary place for kids.
“The kids love to come, they feel like they’re coming and having fun, they don’t feel like they’re getting therapy,” he said.
Above all, the Vail Mind Center wants to make sure that kids and their families feel supported as they face their unique challenges.
“I know how hard it was for my family and for my wife and I and our other kids to manage this on our own, we did really feel kind of alone,” Graf said. “The best thing you can do if your child has a challenge is to address it soon. If you can understand the underlying cause of what’s frustrating them you are better equipped to treat and manage the challenging behaviors you’re seeing.”
For more information about Vail Mind Center and to discuss treatment options, visit vailmindcenter.com.
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