Helping young people to manage emotions and relationships

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Helping young people to manage emotions and relationships

North Wales Adolescent Service, working under Dialetical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), has worked with psycholology and social work colleagues to develop a skills group to help teach young people how to effectively manage their emotions, relationships with others and to cope with difficult situations.


Number of pupils: 25 - 30
Age range: 12 - 18 years
Date of Estyn inspection: February 2013

Context and background to sectorleading practice

North Wales Adolescent Service (NWAS) is a small, dedicated educational unit for young people between 12 and 18 years of age. Each year, around 25-30 young people with severe and complex mental health problems attend the unit for therapeutic interventions that support them access their entitlement to education at an appropriate and effective level. All young people are residential patients of the joint health and education facility.

The education unit is sited within a purpose built Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHs) facility provided by the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB). The education unit is funded and managed by Conwy local education authority (LEA).

For several years, a very successful therapeutic intervention, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy* (DBT), has been a prominent component of the psychological treatment offered at NWAS and other CAMHS provision across Wales. This therapeutic approach is incorporated into the personal and social education (PSE) programme at the unit. It is delivered by a multi-disciplinary team of psychologists, teachers and a social worker through practical application of therapeutic teaching.

The focus of the DBT skills group is to teach young people how to manage effectively their emotions, and relationships with others. It helps young people cope with difficult situations without resorting to unhelpful or destructive behaviours. This work is an integral component of the unit’s PSE curriculum.

The joint delivery of the skills programme by the multi-disciplinary team ensures continuity of the therapy throughout the year, in term time and school holidays.

The objective is that young people value the skills taught and recognise there relevance to their own personal wellbeing. The aim is for young people to become more positive about learning and engage with other aspects of the education and therapy offered at NWAS.

Nature of strategy or activity identified as sector-leading practice

The DBT component of the PSE programme comprises a rolling schedule of teaching delivered three times a week. Three topic areas are explored over a period of eight weeks. These are:

  • managing emotions;
  • managing relationships; and
  • coping in the moment.

The programme manual, written by the psychology staff, has a strong emphasis on practising the skills taught as part of the experience of living in the hospital community. One of the three weekly group sessions is devoted to supporting the young people in reflecting on the practice tasks set for the week to ensure that they continue to rehearse their skills outside the classroom environment through set ‘homework’.

Impact on provision and learners’ standards

All learning experiences are tailored to pupils’ individual needs and aim to ensure that they successfully apply their learning in their everyday life. During discussions generated in skills groups ,young people build confidence in their ability to problem solve and express themselves on a range of complex themes. As a result, learners’ health, wellbeing, life skills and attendance have significantly improved. They also make good progress in developing self-awareness, as well as in their thinking and communication skills.

Good quality information gathered from young people’s involvement in the programme supports planning for reintegration to mainstream education. Working in partnership with psychology and social work colleagues gives teachers first-hand knowledge of the impact of the skills group. They know how well young people have developed the skill to manage their own emotions effectively. In liaison with mainstream colleagues, these teachers use their understanding to plan, the risk management arrangements well to enable learners’ transition back to mainstream schools.

*Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT ) is a method for teaching coping and social skills that will help young people who have poor emotion regulation cope with sudden and intense surges of emotion.