Why DBT skills in schools?

Dialectical Behavioral Treatment (DBT) is the most researched and proven evidence-based treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder. While core concepts of DBT can be critical to people living with emotional regulation disorder, these concepts are also very useful to everyone.

So what is it about DBT that would be useful to everyone?  Here are two of the most powerful reasons:


  • Life coping skills
    We all experience problems controlling our own emotions. Can you think of a time when you wish you had not blown off the handle or you had approached a difficult situation differently? Perhaps with your child, adolescent, partner or at work? Have you experienced emotions taking over and making already difficult situations worse?
    Enter DBT skills...One of the core objectives of DBT is to give us a number of proven effective tools to control our emotions and to get past difficult situations without making things worse. These techniques have been proven effective for people living with high emotional reactivity and vulnerability such as people living with emotion regulation disorder so it is not surprising that these techniques can also help everyone else get their own emotions under control.
  • Validation skills
    We all experience problems interacting with someone else whose emotions are out of control. Talking to someone whose emotions are out of control is very difficult to say the least. Anything you say or do seems to get that person more emotionally aroused. This situation can and often does cause our own emotions to rise leading to conflict escalation which can turn very quickly into a crisis. You may say: "It's not my fault; the other person was just not listening to any of the reasonable things I was saying". And you may be right, your well-intentioned suggestions were not been heard, so what can we do in that case?
    Enter DBT validation... DBT makes extensive use of validation techniques based on mindfulness and acceptance. With validation we use empathy and compassion in a non-judgemental way to recognize and acknowledge other people's feelings even if we don't agree with their behaviour. We let the other person know that we somehow get how their behaviour and actions make sense from their perspective, even if there are more effective ways to deal with the situation. It turns out that validation has been proven effective in bringing down someone else's emotions. This is extremely important because research shows that a person in a state of high emotional arousal will not listen or consider problem solving advice, even if following that advice is exactly what would help them get past the moment. Once the person that is dysregulated has been validated sufficiently their level of emotional arousal will come down enough for them to consider problem solving. Validation has been proven effective to bring down emotions of people living with high emotional reactivity and vulnerability such as people living with emotion regulation disorder so it is not surprising that validation can also help bring down emotions on other people. 

It is the balanced combination of validation skills and coping skills that makes DBT so effective. While learning the basics of DBT-speak is not difficult, learning to master these techniques takes time, and as with anything else, it is best to try these techniques slowly, in low risk situations at first, to get fluent with the approach. Eventually our DBT-speak becomes second nature and comes out instinctively when we need it the most.

Imagine teachers students and parents practicing DBT skills and validation in their interaction with each other. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How many difficult situations would be averted causing pain and suffering?
  • How many people, in a validating environment, would feel the stigma removed for reaching out for help with mental health issues?
  • How would such an environment help curb bullying?
  • How many people could feel the confidence and empowerment to reach out and support or help someone in need? 
  • BPD is at its core a coping-skills deficit, in such a validating and skillful environment how many people that would have otherwise developed BPD would now avert the disorder altogether?
  • How would successful outcomes in such an environment prove contagious to other settings? Universities, Medical institutions, work, etc.?
  • How much money would be saved during crisis interventions such as ER Hospital visits, counselling due to suicide or suicide attempts?
  • How many would not end up in penal institutions?

So are we the only ones that think that teaching DBT skills and validation in schools would be beneficial?  Not so. In conversation with Dr Marsha Linehan's during the NAMI convention this year she said that teaching DBT skills at school is exactly what is needed. And others are pursuing in this direction as we speak.  Here are a few:

Alec Miller, PsyD is a consultant to numerous DBT research studies internationally as well as to 4 school districts in Westchester County NY that have begun implementing DBT in their schools.

James B.Hansen, M.Ed. authored a presentation on Dialectical Behavioral Therapy in the Public Schools which was presented at the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) Convention in 2012. It talks about a very successful DBT program implementation at Lincoln High School in Portland OR.

  • We are all doing the best we can and we can all do better...
  • Let's remove stigma from mental illness and Borderline Personality Disorder...
  • We are all in this together, you are not alone...
  • Validation before problem solving...
  • Emotion Regulation Disorder is the new name for Borderline Personality Disorder...
  • Let's teach DBT skills in schools...
  • Let's intervene, let's intervene early...

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