College counseling centers (CCCs) are designed to provide immediate therapeutic services to college students in distress. Young adults who enter college are more vulnerable to mental health problems than their peers due to the additional stress they experience when they enter a university. Moving away from home, experiencing independence and isolation, and academic fears all contribute to the psychological stress that many students face. Rates of depression and borderline personality (BPD) are extremely high among college students. Likewise, college students often engage in nonsuicidal self-injurious (NSSI) behaviors such as cutting and burning in order to cope with the additional mental strain. For some students, suicidal ideation and even suicide attempts become their only way to cope. The importance of providing adequate and effective treatment to these students cannot be understated.
Dialectical behavior therapy is a form of therapy that is designed to address these urgent needs in individuals with significant mental health challenges. DBT has been shown to radically reduce symptoms in a brief period of time and can decrease the risk of hospitalization and further psychological decline. Several factors make DBT an ideal approach for college students. First, it incorporates teaching and learning, which is a readily accepted approach in a student population. Second, it can be delivered by clinicians in training, which lowers the cost and increases accessibility. Finally, DBT is malleable and can be shaped to fit the needs of each individual student.
In an effort to compare the effectiveness of DBT to treatment as usual (TAU) among a student population, Jacqueline Pistorello of the Counseling Services Department at the University of Nevada recently led a study that evaluated the outcome of 63 students being treated for depression, suicidal ideation, NSSI, or BPD. The students received either DBT or TAU over the school year and were assessed at the end of their treatment and again every 3 months posttreatment for a year and half. The results revealed that the DBT group had significantly sharper decreases in symptom severity than the TAU group. The adherence to treatment and maintenance of gains was also stronger in the DBT group. Pistorello believes these findings provide promise to underfunded and overburdened college campuses. She said, “This finding suggests that DBT may be a particularly effective and safe treatment for severely distressed clients being treated in the CCC context.”
Pistorello, J., Fruzzetti, A. E., MacLane, C., Gallop, R., Iverson, K. M. (2012). Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) applied to college students: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029096
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