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  • Innovative Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Teaches Patients How to Manage Their Emotions

    For patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD), each day is a struggle to regulate their emotions and manage relationships at home, at school and at work. But through an innovative but intensive program at Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), these patients learn life skills to help them manage their emotions and succeed.

    “Dialectical Behavioral Therapy works – I’ve seen the difference it makes. But you have to work hard. It is a very structured form of treatment,” said Sherrie-An Gerhart, Program Coordinator.

    The program is designed for individuals who need more support than outpatient therapy alone. This highly structured approach is unlike any other program with both classroom training and the individual therapy.

    Learning Life Skills

    The therapy is a rigorous 13-week program that includes nine hours of classroom training, and homework every night. Through this training, patients learn a wide range of life skills including:

    1. Mindfulness as well as the ability to stay in the present and be non-judgmental.
    2. The ability to handle stress and distress, and bring down the intensity of high emotion.
    3. The ability to regulate emotions, and understand their purpose and function.
    4. Interpersonal skills, including communicating, understanding limits and trusting themselves.

    Skills classes are co-facilitated by therapists with specialized DBT training and include up to 12 men and women.

    The program also includes individual therapy as well as a unique feature: coach calling. If a patient is in a stressful situation and finds their emotions spiraling out of control, they may forget the skills they learned. In that event, they can call a therapist any time to get coaching on the techniques they should use in that particular situation.

    What Makes Your Life Worth Living?

    “We ask patients, ‘What makes your life worth living’ and that becomes their goal – whether it is a relationship, a job, an education, or whatever, and we work toward that goal,” said Gerhart. “Their behaviors are interfering with their quality of life, but we’re helping them learn the skills that allow them to reach their goals. I’ve seen it work.”

    The program also includes psychiatric evaluation, medication management, family sessions, and a DBT Graduate Group for individuals who have successfully completed the program either at Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute or in the community.

    If you would like to speak to someone about better managing your stress and anxiety, or to make an appointment, please call (717) 782-6493 for more information.

     

    Who Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Helps
    Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is for individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) or individuals who have strong traits of this diagnosis. It has also been used to treat individuals with drug and alcohol addictions, eating disorders and for pain management. Patients must be at least 18 years old and not currently attending high school. Individuals may attend college or work while attending the program; however, full-time employment and a full college course is not recommended, while attending the program due to the program’s intensity.


    “We ask patients, ‘What makes your life worth living’ and that becomes their goal – whether it is a relationship, a job, an education, or whatever, and we work toward that goal.”
    —Sherrie-An Gerhart, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Program Coordinator


     

    For patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD), each day is a struggle to regulate their emotions and manage relationships at home, at school and at work. But through an innovative but intensive program at Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), these patients learn life skills to help them manage their emotions and succeed.

    Responding to patient complaints and grievances is the job of the Patient Advocate, Amy Matthews. It’s not easy, but the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute is dedicated to listening to patients and doing what they can to resolve an issue.

    “If you have an issue, I’m going to try to help you to the best of my ability,” Matthews tells patients. “Sometimes I can’t make a change. But I will do my best to make you happy. I like to work with people and try to figure out ways to make their situation a little better.”

    The Patient Advocate is usually involved in what’s called a grievance. This is a formal process in which she typically researches patient complaints. These can range from disagreements about a discharge plan, lost items, food options, or a staff member.

    Often, Matthews finds in each problem an opportunity to assist the patient. She’s helped patients find new doctors, and helped a patient get a discharge plan changed. She’s even worked with the billing department to help a patient pay their bill so they could continue their care.

    Working with Patients and Staff

    Matthews is also involved in helping identify problems and solutions before patients experience them.

    As the Patient Advocate, Matthews is a member of the hospital’s Patient Experience Committee. The committee brings together staff from across the organization share what they do and find ways to work together to improve the patient experience.

    Matthews has also started going into each unit once a month to talk to the patients. “I give them an overview of what I do, what the complaint process is, and then get ideas from them. What could we do better? What kinds of things could we improve?”

    Helping Patients Learn to Help Themselves

    Matthews also sees her role as helping patients learn to advocate for themselves.

    “Patients don’t always know how to speak up for themselves,” Matthews noted. “I try to help them find their own voice. For the smaller things, I encourage them to talk to the staff first and try to resolve their problems. But if they need help, I’m always there.”

    Whatever the patient issue or concern, the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute is committed to investigating it in a fair and appropriate manner. Patients and their family members are encouraged to voice their questions and concerns.


    “If you have an issue, I’m going to try to help you to the best of my ability. Sometimes I can’t make a change. But I will do my best to make you happy. I like to work with people and try to figure out ways to make their situation a little better.”
    —Amy Matthews, Patient Advocate


     

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