Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Therapists as Writers

My Interview by DBT Therapist and Author, Amanda Smith

I was extremely excited when Amanda Smith, DBT therapist and author, contacted me for an interview to post on her blog. Many of my clients love her DBT books, The Borderline Personality Disorder Wellness Planner for Families and The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Wellness Planner. I’m posting my interview and hope to post hers in the near future. If you have any questions you would like me to ask her, send them to my email, clozierlcsw@gmail.com. Thank you, Amanda, and I look forward to interviewing you!

Please tell us about you and how you came to create DBT: Therapeutic Activity Ideas for Kids and Caregivers.
I am a licensed clinical social worker and have been in practice for over 30 years, and in private practice for about 20 of those years. It’s hard to believe I’ve been in practice that long, but I quickly realize time has flown by as my two children are grown and I have a beautiful 2 year old granddaughter, Lexi, and a handsome 1 year old grandson, Liam.

I specialize in working with children and teens who have a history of foster care, adoption, or trauma. I also see adults who have experienced trauma in their life. I feel very blessed to work with a very diverse group of youth due to my area of specialization. As a result, the children and teens I see in my therapy practice are from all over the world, such as Ethiopia, Congo, China, Ukraine, Guatemala, and many other countries.

Before I even began this book, I had already created several DBT handouts and worksheets for children. In sessions, I wanted to explain the DBT concepts and skills to the children and caregivers, but there were not any handouts or worksheets available for this age group. I did have ones from my teen book (DBT Therapeutic Activity Ideas for Working with Teens), but the language and examples were too sophisticated for this young population.

For this book, DBT Therapeutic Activity Ideas for Kids and Caregivers, I knew I wanted to self-publish it as oppose to using a publishing company. Not only did I write the book, but I also had to draw each illustration on the pages. I had a wonderful time drawing the illustrations and creating the handouts and worksheets. I’m a DIY kind of girl, so it was a lot of fun for me!

How did you become interested in DBT?
I have been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. When I started out as a young therapist, I felt very overwhelmed as I truly wanted to help others, and I knew that I had a lot to learn to become an effective clinician. I decided to get the best supervision from experienced clinicians as well as continued training in order to become the type of therapist I wanted to be for my clients. Over the years I’ve gone to numerous trainings on different therapeutic modalities. I became a certified EMDR therapist (I’ve since let my certification go), and am highly proficient in other processing therapies.

While the children and teens in my practice were improving—their trauma was healing and their triggers had lessened—I noticed that they did not have adequate life coping skills. At that time, I began to look for a way to help them improve their coping skills and I happily landed on DBT. I found Dr. Linehan’s teaching site, Behavioral Tech, and started taking DBT webinars and trainings. This year, I completed the 16 month training and am now an intensively trained DBT clinician.

Whom did you have in mind when you were writing this book?
As I stated earlier, before I began the book I had already created several DBT handouts and worksheets. As I was creating the sheets and writing the book, I was using each handout and worksheet in my practice. Sometimes they worked great with the children and families, and sometimes they needed to be tweaked a few times. I adjusted the handouts and worksheets until the children fully understood and were able to effectively use them, knowing that all of the pages would eventually be presented in book form to the same age population.

What do family members or caregivers need to know about teaching these skills to younger children?
I think caregivers or family members need to be aware that it is necessary for them to walk alongside the child as they use and implement these skills in their daily life. Caregivers must be fully on board for the child to be successful in his or her endeavor to behave skillfully. I often tell caregivers that their home needs to become a “DBT home,” meaning that everyone in the family is familiar and uses DBT skills and language.

When the caregiver notices an opportunity for the child to practice or use one of the skills, it is most helpful for them to do the skill alongside the child, rather than just tell the child to do it. The plan is that the child will see the caregiver using the skill, and voluntarily ask about it or follow along the caregiver and do the skill too.

Can anyone learn these skills?
Yes! Anyone can learn and use these skills. Of course, like any new task it is important to have a coach or mentor as you start your new venture. In DBT, there is a large amount of new language and skills to learn, understand, and put into action. Therefore, it is most effective for a family to have an experienced DBT therapist or trainer as they are learn DBT. In today’s world, there are many DBT therapists or trainers online if a family does not have an experienced DBT therapist or trainer in their community.

What are your favorite DBT skills?
This is a hard question because I have so many favorites! I would say my top favorites to teach children and families are the TIP skills and Repairs for children, and Validation for caregivers. I like the TIP skills because they give children and caregivers an immediate skill to reduce extreme emotions and behaviors such as yelling, arguing, and hitting. Typically, families also like this skill as it is quickly helpful in managing extreme emotions in the home and school.

The Repairs skill is important as it teaches children an effective way to apologize when they have hurt—whether intentional or accidental—other people. Sometimes, children want to repair relationship hurts and they are not quite sure how to do it . . . . even though caregivers think they already understand how to apologize. This skill provides them with the necessary guidance to apologize in a meaningful and effective way.

Lastly, I like the Validation for caregivers skill as it is a vital ingredient for behavior change to occur in the child. When a child is validated, they feel heard and understood which allows the door to open for the caregiver to push for behavior change. In DBT, there are six levels of validation for caregivers to learn and use in daily life with their children.

What books are you currently reading?
I love to read, and I am almost always reading a professional book and a book for pleasure. Right now I am reading Dr. Linehan’s memoir, Building a Life Worth Living, and a book by Robyn Carr titled, The Country Guesthouse.


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