The SCI Dallas psychology department provides a voluntary and manualized Dialectical Behavior Therapy informed treatment group for general population led by Licensed Psychology Manager Nicole Ashton.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a form of cognitive behavior therapy that focuses on acceptance of our negative emotions/distress versus the immediate urge to change or escape that distress. DBT informed groups focus on four modules of skills training: 1. Mindfulness 2. Distress Tolerance 3. Emotion Regulation and 4. Interpersonal Effectiveness.
As they move through the modules, participants of DBT informed groups learn to tolerate being present in the moment (even when that moment is painful), acknowledge any destructive urges present, increase awareness of their options of how to respond to reduce overall chaos, self-soothe, self-validate, and eventually regulate distress. This is the second time this group has occurred on the Special Needs Unit as SCI Dallas, and it has doubled in attendance this time around.
Each group session begins with a collective mindfulness exercise, then learning the skill on the agenda for that session. The group’s participants also discuss how to specifically apply the skill in a prison setting with the resources present. They utilize real-life examples offered by the group members to instruct and discuss how the skill can be used in situations that are relevant to them and their current needs.
One participant described the group as “a safe space to talk about emotions,” and another group member added, “This group helps me be reflective. I realize how much I didn’t observe my emotions before.” DBT is designed for multi-disordered, high-risk individuals and can target criminogenic risk factors. It is also accessible to diverse learning styles. A 2018 pilot study of DBT groups in prison settings demonstrated results that suggest even brief (8-week) DBT groups improved coping among general population inmates and was also shown to reduce externalization of blame as well. The course at Dallas is 16 weeks long.