First Advisor

Hess, Robyn S.

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Many adolescents in America suffer from serious symptoms related to borderline personality disorder (BPD) such as self-harming and suicide attempts. These reasons alone provide a strong case for researching effective therapies for adolescents with borderline traits. One treatment for BPD called dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) has been demonstrated to be empirically effective; however, in its current form DBT requires significant amounts of time, clinical training, and resources to carry out. Comprehensive application of DBT is too time intensive and cost prohibitive for some agencies to implement. The purpose of this study was to test the effectiveness of the DBT group skills training component with adolescents who display features of BPD. The current study also measured the applicability of DBT group skills training in a school setting, as well as its effectiveness in decreasing distressing symptoms, increasing coping skills, and reducing borderline traits in this population. This study provided a 12-week-long version of DBT group skills training with six adolescent females displaying borderline traits. Data were collected at pre- and post-treatment to assess changes in depression, anxiety, suicidality and hopelessness, and borderline traits. Additionally, progress-monitoring data were collected throughout the course of the intervention to assess changes in self-harming, self-concept, coping skills, and hopelessness. Single-case and quantitative methods were utilized to analyze these data. Results showed that the intervention was successful in improving suicidality and hopelessness, borderline traits, and self-concept. Some changes were seen in participants’ acquisition of coping skills and improvements in their experience of anxiety. No changes in depression were indicated. These findings suggest that group skills training is somewhat effective when delivered in a school setting. Future research should focus on running this therapy model for a full 24-week period to gauge further effectiveness and practicality of this treatment mode in a school setting. The findings of this study suggest that it is possible, and even beneficial, to teach a DBT–based skills group to adolescents in a school setting. This model makes it efficient for school-based mental health providers to offer high-quality mental health services to the most severely impacted students, who might otherwise be referred outside of the school for help. By delivering the service in the school building, the provider helps to ensure that the students in the most dire need of mental health services are actually receiving those services.


Adolescents, Borderline Personality Disorder, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, School Psychology


162 pages

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