Date of Submission
Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)
Robert A DiTomasso, PhD, ABPP
This study explored the effect of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) on the school functioning of high school students with trauma histories. The lifelong impact of trauma exposure across multiple domains of functioning is well documented. However, there is a gap between research and practice in school environments. Teachers in this study were taught trauma-sensitive teaching practices and DBT strategies to improve their ability to understand student emotional dysregulation, reduce challenging classroom behaviors, and improve academic performance. Students were taught DBT strategies in mindfulness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal relations designed to reduce disciplinary referrals, increase use of positive coping skills, and improve measures of resiliency. Results indicate teachers typically receive no training on the causes and impact of trauma prior to beginning their teaching career and feel ill-equipped to teach students with trauma histories. Teachers were more likely to identify challenging student behavior as a deliberate action or due to systemic issues such as school policy and procedures, rather than due to trauma exposure. Upon completion of the intervention, the number of disciplinary referrals students received for inappropriate language and defiance significantly increased, and the percentage of assignments completed by students participating in the DBT sessions significantly improved. Students reported increased use of positive coping skills, combined with a decrease in negative coping skills. Preresiliency and postresiliency measures found increased levels of adaptability, trust, tolerance, relatedness, and comfort, whereas emotional reactivity and impairment decreased. No change was found in levels of support, self-efficacy, optimism, or support.
Wayne, Kelly R., "Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy to Improve School Performance of High School Students" (2018). PCOM Psychology Dissertations. 472.