• 22 June 2018
The Rise of the Tutor-Therapist

The Rise of the Tutor-Therapist

May 22, 2018

Do high-achieving but struggling students need tutors trained in therapy to handle the stress of their academic demands? The answer might lie in what techniques every tutor should cultivate in helping students navigate the modern world of high academic performance.

The pressure to succeed academically is overwhelming many high-achieving American students. In a recent study, about half of American high schoolers surveyed reported difficulties coping with anxiety and depression caused by school.

After all, elite universities, and increasingly even entry to special primary and secondary schools, demand ever greater academic performance, and a track record that demonstrates students’ abilities in extracurricular activities, such as sports or social causes including charity and volunteer work.

The phenomenon of growing pressures to perform better at school and beyond has given rise to a new niche in the tutoring world: “homework therapists.”

Part Lesson, Part Therapy

The New York Times reports that tutors with training in psychology and therapy are entering the market in New York City and other major cities like Los Angeles and Boston, providing “academic help and emotional support” to struggling students “using common counseling techniques like motivational interviewing and exposure therapy.”

Homework therapists don’t come cheap, with average fees, according to the Times, in the ballpark of $200 – 600 for a roughly hour-long session. They grapple with students’ learning needs while at the same time guiding them through the emotional issues that hold students back.

The Times notes homework therapy is part of a larger trend in American education with the rise of the “growth mindset” and social–emotional learning: a recognition, reflected in emerging research, that students need highly developed social skills and emotional competence to succeed academically.

On the Flipside...

The “homework therapy” trend, however, has its drawbacks. For one, it’s expensive. Private tutoring is already cost-prohibitive for many families: hiring a clinical psychologist or social counselor to tutor your child is a privilege that most parents simply could not afford.

But, more to the point, “homework therapy” is a service that any tutor can already provide, in cultivating successful study habits in addition to the social and emotional skills that their students equally need. Critically, the pressure to succeed comes at the expense of learning how to manage students’ habits and expectations, as well as those times where they fail. Coping with failure and the fallout from it is essential to building resilience – and it’s an important skill for parents as well.

In her rebuttal to the Times article, National Review columnist Heather Wilhelm argues that parents need to let up on the increasing demands on their children’s time and efforts. “Slacker parenting,” she says, recognizes that a fundamental part of the problem high-achieving students are facing is the “broader competitive culture” that “tells us what we ‘need’ to do.”

Tutors: You have it in you!

Tutoring can’t solve every problem for their students. Still, they can do plenty of good: building those social – emotional learning skills and a strong dialogue with parents about their own and their students’ goals and the external factors that they should consider in understanding what students are facing. Tutors can also nurture the network of people that can support struggling students across every facet of their busy young lives.


Done right, any tutor can fulfil what “homework therapy” promises to deliver. It’s not a special qualification that ultimately counts, but the quality of care that every tutor can and should bring to the table.