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Making History in Woodbury: Behavior Therapy Solutions fills service gaps' for kids

Julie and Craig Hunter (from left) and Jennifer Joseph lead Behavior Therapy Solutions in Woodbury. Scott Wente / RiverTown Multimedia

Craig and Julie Hunter and Jennifer Joseph worked together providing services to children with autism, but they believed they could provide a greater breadth of services operating their own clinic.

Their intent was to continue offering services to children with autism but also to others with anxiety, depression and other behavioral issues.

"We saw service gaps for kids," Joseph said.

So together they branched out in 2010 and opened Behavior Therapy Solutions at 700 Commerce, Suite 260, in Woodbury. Over seven years their business has grown and they have experienced an increase in referrals for children who are on the autism spectrum. They also have observed a shift toward more acceptance of therapy for behavior issues.

"With awareness and better diagnostic criteria, you're just seeing more diagnoses," Julie Hunter said.

Craig Hunter and Jennifer Joseph are licensed psychologists and clinic directors, while Julie Hunter is a board-certified associate behavior analyst and Behavior Therapy Solutions' program director. They lead a staff of 30 that with six full-time outpatient clinicians, who are either licensed or in the process of earning a license in psychology, counseling or social work.

Craig Hunter said they hold a distinction in the area: They are one of the only clinics that provides in-home applied behavior analysis — intensive therapy for children who have autism — as well as outpatient mental health and behavioral services. They also provide family consultation — less intense home visits usually including parents or involving both a child and the parents.

Behavior Therapy Solutions psychologists conduct mental health assessments. A diagnosis can help determine the type of treatment they will recommend. In-home applied behavioral analysis requires an autism diagnosis. That treatment involves intense, one-on-one treatment to develop skills such as communications and socializing.

The autism spectrum is wide, Joseph said, ranging from low-functioning to high-functioning. Craig Hunter said the common characteristic across the spectrum is an "impairment in social reciprocity," or the ability to connect to people. It could be lack of conversational skills or language, or someone who doesn't use or understand gestures.

In applied behavior analysis, mental health practitioners work individually with a child to develop communication and socialization skills as well as to decrease disruptive behaviors, Craig Hunter said. Decades of research shows the success of in-home therapy, where the team of therapists may spend 20 to 40 hours a week with a child.

"You need the intensity, the repetition, the consistency," he said.

Currently Behavior Therapy Solutions may have 50 kids in the in-home program at any given time with many more in the other two programs.

The in-home treatment can start with children as young as 2 years old, and it's different than how a school psychologist may work with a child.

"It's largely very different," Craig Hunter said. "Schools focus mostly on academics. We focus on teaching a child how to talk or how to understand others — teaching children how to play."

Craig Hunter said their approach is different than services students receive in school.

"Schools focus mostly on academics, we focus on teaching a child how to talk or how to understand others. Teaching the children how to play."

Each child has a different goal.

"We want to help them improve to their potential," Joseph said.

In family consultation, a child may or not have autism. Those children are usually a little older, typically in grade school to school. They are receiving the services because outpatient visits aren't sufficient, Julie Hunter said. They need more than one session a week. They could be working on social anxieties or even a parent-child conflict, she explained.

Outpatient treatment at the Behavior Therapy Solutions office is used to treat a variety of behavior issues. They may only last a few sessions.

The team eventually wants to expand its services to adults who are struggling with emotional difficulties, and to continue their growth in Woodbury.

"We're local, we've been here," Julie Hunter said.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

(651) 459-7600
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