Revolutionizing School Mental Health: Paraprofessionals and Motivational Interviewing

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In today’s rapidly evolving educational landscape, the demand for school mental health (SMH) services vastly outstrips the supply. As we seek innovative ways to bridge this gap, the paper “Expanding School-Based Motivational Interviewing Through Delivery by Paraprofessional Providers: A Preliminary Scoping Review” sheds light on a promising solution. This blog aims to decipher the complexities of this study for school psychologists and allied professionals concerned about school mental health.

The Growing Need for School Mental Health Services

Schools are increasingly becoming the frontline for mental health services for youth. Yet, with only a limited number of qualified professionals and a rising incidence of mental health issues among students, the current system is strained. This is where the concept of task-shifting becomes critical. By training paraprofessional providers in Motivational Interviewing (MI), we can significantly expand the reach and effectiveness of mental health interventions.

Understanding Motivational Interviewing (MI)

MI is a client-centered counseling style that addresses ambivalence to change. It’s about engaging with students in a manner that sparks their motivation to make positive decisions themselves. The beauty of MI lies in its adaptability; it can be tailored to address a wide array of academic and behavioral outcomes crucial in a school setting.

The Promise of Paraprofessionals

Paraprofessionals are individuals trained to assist professionals but do not have formal professional licensure. The study reviewed 19 instances where paraprofessionals were trained in MI. Remarkably, 15 of these reported improvement in MI application post-training. The findings suggest that not only is the training feasible, but it’s also welcomed by clients and can lead to tangible improvements in youth outcomes.

Training Paraprofessionals: A Closer Look

The reviewed studies varied methodology and context, from K-12 settings to health clinics. Despite this diversity, one common finding was the effective increase in MI competencies among paraprofessionals post-training. This is an encouraging sign for schools considering this approach to expand their mental health services.

Implications for School Mental Health

Implementing MI through paraprofessionals can revolutionize SMH in several ways:

  1. Expanded Reach: It enables schools to provide help to more students by increasing the number of individuals capable of delivering interventions.
  2. Diversity and Inclusion: Paraprofessionals often share similar backgrounds with students, which can enhance trust and communication.
  3. Resource Efficiency: It presents a cost-effective solution to the scarcity of mental health professionals.

Forward Steps in Research and Practice

While the findings are promising, the paper calls for further controlled studies to understand better and optimize the training and implementation of MI by paraprofessionals. As this field develops, it must remain inclusive and effectively address the diverse needs of all student populations.


As schools continue to be a primary avenue for addressing student mental health needs, the potential of paraprofessionals in delivering MI offers a beacon of hope. With careful implementation and ongoing research, this approach can significantly contribute to closing the gap between mental health needs and school services.

By embracing the power of paraprofessionals and the adaptability of MI, we can move towards a more inclusive, effective, and responsive SMH system. The journey is just beginning, and the path ahead is promising.

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