Written by: 
Erin Cristales
Photography by: 
Michael Clements

At Sundance Behavioral Healthcare in Fort Worth, there is a space set up to simulate a classroom environment. The room plays host to more than a dozen kids expelled from school due to behavioral issues, most of which stem from past traumas.

During her time as a clinical program therapist at Sundance, it was Jalea Seals' ('09) job to enter that room and teach kids that they could control their behavior -- that ultimately, the choice was theirs. After four to six weeks of therapy -- ranging from trauma-focused therapeutic groups to family therapy sessions to art and play therapy -- students emerged from the program with a deep belief in their potential for success and a renewed sense of self-worth.

Then they returned home to parents who didn't know how to replicate those results.

"In my experience, parents want to help their children be successful. They just don't always know how," says Seals, who earned a B.A. in psychology from UNT and an M.A. in marriage and family counseling from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. "They're trying to do the best they can with the information they have."

A path to helping parents

The experience of seeing parents struggle to help their children is what inspired Seals to found 212 Behavioral in 2016. The Fort Worth-based program is an in-home system designed to show parents how to support children with behavioral issues, ranging from extreme aggression to separation anxiety to ADHD.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five children ages 13 to 18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness. A 2017 report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in seven U.S. children ages 2 to 8 have a diagnosed mental, behavioral or developmental disorder.

But Seals wants kids with emotional disorders to be more than just statistics. As a student pursuing a psychology path at UNT, she earned nearly 160 credit hours, many of which were in science. So she named her new business after a seemingly simple scientific concept that contains big ideas about the potential for transformation.

"The temperature at which water turns to steam is 212 degrees Fahrenheit," Seals says. "If you want something to be different, you have to put energy into it to create change. We want parents to have the energy to implement lasting changes in their child's behavior."

With 212 Behavioral, Seals and her team of two other therapists perform a two-hour in-home assessment in which they sit down with parents to brainstorm changes that need to happen to promote their child's success, including adjusting expectations.

"What works for an 8 year old is not going to work for a 2 year old," Seals says.

After the assessment, a solutions guide is created that includes resources to help parents enforce the expectations they have set. If teachers are on board, then rewards used at home -- such as a coupon-based system -- also can be implemented at school.

In addition, parents receive access to an online academy, found at 212Behavioral.com. Currently, the modules include lessons on parenting behaviorally challenged kids, parenting the child with ADHD, and equine-assisted therapy.

Finally, parents receive two follow-up visits by phone or Skype.

"The hardest part of launching 212 was getting people introduced to the new product," Seals says. "A lot of people only want to deal with the kids, but our mission is to help the parents. So it took about a year to build up our referral base and to get parents and school districts to understand what we're doing here."

Forging ahead

Now, Seals works with individual schools in Fort Worth ISD, as well as Crowley, Keller and Northwest ISDs, where she not only helps parents and their children but also provides live workshops for teachers. She also receives referrals from child psychiatrists and other therapists.

So far, Seals has seen significant changes in the lives of several children whose parents have adopted her strategies. One 3-year-old girl, whose extreme separation anxiety resulted in meltdowns and hours of crying when her mom dropped her off at day care, has become empowered to cope with her fear.

"We were able to go in and help her create a comfort backpack that she can take with her to school. When she's feeling sad, she can pull out a pillow made from mom's shirt or pull out headphones and listen to music," Seals says. "Within two weeks, the anxiety disappeared. I followed up a year later, and the changes continued to grow."

Moving forward, Seals says she wants to continue to grow 212's online content to reach more parents around the country and add more therapists for in-home consultations. In the future, she hopes to start after-school skills groups that will involve anger management, coping skills for anxiety and the development of social skills.

Right now, 212 Behavioral has relationships with DFW-based organizations like the Gladney Center, Cook Children's Hospital and Mesa Springs Hospital to promote positive transformations.

"We want to implement these changes now, as opposed to when they're 21 and in college and are having trouble coping," Seals says. "You want parents to be able to empower these kids early and really change the trajectory of their mental health life."

For more information, visit 212Behavioral.com.

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<p>Tesa Hargis</p>
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