Life Skills Developing DBT Program

Photo credit: Zoe Archambault

Photo credit: Zoe Archambault

The Student Wellness and Accessibility Centre (SWAC) has planned a series of sessions aimed at helping students develop skills to properly deal with a number of stressors in life. It is a 10 week skills training program taken from the creator of the DBT, Marshall Leninghan’s workbook, ‘Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills Training’.

“The reason we chose to do this is to help students cope with the ups and downs of life and build mechanisms and strategies to help them overcome some of the stressors that they experience in their everyday lives,” said Suzanne Zook-Johnston, a registered psychotherapist at student health services and the facilitator for these sessions.

Dialectical thinking is a perspective that rejects the polarized way of thinking that society has adopted, where there is right or wrong, success or failure, win or lose. Thinking in this linear way is a set up for evaluation and comparison and is often what causes stress and feelings of intense emotions. Dialectical thinking focuses on the things in the middle or the ‘grey area’ and removes the comparison element. Doing this allows people to focus more on their own individual journey, so that success, for example, is not determined by attaining a certain level as someone else, but rather one’s own achievement. Someone else succeeding doesn’t mean someone else failed. This is what the sessions are aimed at teaching students.

In the teaching sessions, students will have the chance to develop skills in four areas. The first is mindfulness, which is becoming aware and promoting self-awareness.

This module has also integrated ‘growth mindset’ into it. This attempts to change students’ mindsets so that they are in a place where they are “spiraling up” and things are working, as opposed to “spiralling down” and getting stuck in repetitive patterns.

“It’s hard to change anything unless we become aware of what we’re doing and not just that, but also what we’re doing that isn’t working,” said Zook-Johnston. “When we become more mindful we become more aware of what we can do and what our choices are.”

The second module is distress tolerance. Individuals will learn what to do when in a crisis and how to de-escalate their emotions in order to think things through.

The third module is emotional regulation skills. These are ways of dealing with emotions on a day to day basis so that they are not as intense and overwhelming.

The last module is interpersonal effectiveness skills that are meant to help students deal with basic interactions where they may be having difficulty communicating.

The teaching sessions are open, so students can go for any number of sessions, though they are encouraged to stay for the entirety of a module.

“We believe it is important if [students] can go away with some tool or skill or anything that might be valuable to them,” said Zook-Johnston.

On Tuesday, February 25, week five of the sessions will begin, and will run from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. in Plaza, PL500C.

To register or find out more information, interested individuals should email

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