Associate Professor of Psychology
School-based Dialectical Behavioral Therapy for Adolescents to Reduce Adolescent Health Risk Behaviors
Individual level factors, such as impulsive personality traits, are associated with problem behaviors across development; however, much of the early research in this area was based on college-aged and adult samples. To this end, I developed and validated a child version of a commonly used adult self-report impulsive personality measure for children as young as 9 years old (Zapolski & Smith, 2013). This newly developed scale has been shown to predict attentional problems, aggression, academic performance, and a number of health behaviors (i.e., smoking, drinking, and disordered eating) among youth. Based on this work documenting the predictive relationship between two specific emotion-based personality traits on risk for substance use outcomes, I have partnered with several school systems in the Indianapolis area to implement a selective group intervention (Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Adolescents, DBT-A) for youth to address deficits in emotion dysregulation, which we propose will reduce risk for engagement in substance use behaviors. DBT-A is an evidence-based intervention, although to date has rarely been utilized within non-clinical community settings. Thus, this work is important and novel as it provides access to an evidence-based program for youth who are in need, but would otherwise not receive this type of service. My team includes individuals across different areas of psychology, but has also allowed me the opportunity to partner with social workers and individuals within the education sector – thus providing a multidisciplinary team approach. Lastly, this work has been underway for the last three years with great results. We have found improvements in both skill development by youth, but also reduction in substance use and other risk taking behaviors. Youth and school staff have also noted improvements in self-esteem, focus, interpersonal conflict, and academics - all markers for betterment of everyday life.