September is National Suicide Prevention Month

September marks National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a vital opportunity to reduce taboos and increase awareness around suicide prevention.

While many factors contribute to suicide risk, one therapy that has shown strong results for adolescents and adults with behaviors associated with certain risk factors is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

2023 marks 30 years since ServiceNet began providing DBT. In 1993, soon after the therapy was introduced by Marsha Linehan in her book, Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder, ServiceNet clinicians launched their first DBT program with women who were in residential care following hospitalization for a suicide attempt.  A few years later, when ServiceNet opened its clinic, it was the first community mental health center in the nation to offer DBT in an outpatient setting.

The DBT model recognizes suicidal behavior as a person’s attempt to solve a problem that otherwise feels unsolvable. DBT helps clients better understand which factors in their lives are contributing to suicidal and other self-harming behaviors, and to identify and use more positive problem-solving strategies. As the DBT approach balances acceptance and validation with the encouragement and support needed for people to make changes, clients learn specific DBT skills they can use to tolerate their urges to engage in these behaviors; to reduce painful emotions without resorting to life-threatening behaviors; and to improve difficult relationships.

These skills, which clients learn in weekly group therapy, include mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. During individual therapy, they apply DBT skills and strategies to help them achieve their specific treatment goals. In between sessions, when clients need help using DBT skills during a crisis, they are encouraged to call their therapist for telephone coaching. And ServiceNet’s DBT therapists all participate in a consultation team where they focus, together, on providing the most effective treatment possible.

“The best part of doing this work is hearing from clients about how DBT has changed their lives,” said Dan Millman, Director of ServiceNet’s DBT Program.  “When people are able to nonjudgmentally observe and analyze their own behavior and their painful thoughts and feelings,” he noted, “they are better equipped to manage any number of difficult situations, including those that might previously have resulted in suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”

To learn more about DBT at ServiceNet, go to our Counseling and Psychiatry webpage or contact the Outpatient Clinics by phone at 413.584.6855.

If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional distress or is at immediate risk, call or text 9-8-8 to reach the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. 

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