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DBT in schools!

Parents demanded it and their call was heard.

"DBT Steps-A" has been developed and tested in schools for a wide range of adolescents with and without emotional difficulties. This is an innovative Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) program designed for children in grades 6-12 who are at the age where social and emotional skills are more important than ever to manage the stress that arises during adolescence.

Developed by and tested by five experts in Dialectical Behavior Therapy and adolescent school counseling, it is designed as an "upstream" program to prevent emotional dysregulation and related problems that may arise when such skills are not in place. In addition, educators trained in DBT Steps-A can identify adolescents who are suffering from mild stress, moderate anxiety, or severe emotional dysregulation as early as possible and to provide resources or referrals as soon as possible.

As you can imagine, DBT Steps-A offers a proactive approach to help students develop appropriate skills for decision making, emotional management, and communication before they begin to engage in problematic behavior. Mindfulness, Emotional Regulation, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and Distress Tolerance are the standard DBT skills modules and all of these skills are included in the DBT Steps - A program, as well as Dialectics.

Is it expensive for schools to implement? Part of the program included peer-to-peer learning. The program is based upon 50-minute classes that can be integrated into existing courses or programs such as health classes. Preliminary research on this program across multiple school settings has indicated that saves school districts money because it has resulted in reduced disciplinary actions and reduced need for costly specialized residential treatment (even one less person in need of specialized treatment in high school could cover the costs of the program). The research is not yet out, but it is possible that standardized test scores will improve, as has been shown to occur in another SEL program.

Information about training educators both onsite and online can be found at The textbook on the subject is DBT Skills in Schools: Skills Training for Emotional Problem Solving for Adolescents (DBT Steps-A). James Mazza, a school counselor, and Lizz Dexter-Mazza, a child psychologist, teamed up with DBT-for-adolescents experts, Jill Rathus, Alec Miller, and Heather Murphy to develop and test the program, as well as write the book, along with the support of Marsha Linehan.

If you want to learn more, listen to Drs. Mazza and Dexter-Mazza in a 17-minute video that describes 4 skills from the program: Wise Mind, Dialectical Thinking, Radical Acceptance, and Self-Care ("PLEASE skills") to decrease emotional vulnerability. Check this out to get to know them and learn these skills for you and for your adolescent.

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