Where in the World is PULSE? DBT STEPS-A Facilitator Training and Adventures in New York

By: Mary Dempsey

I finally made it. After weeks of deliberation, this opportunity was created with the help from Dr. Carla Chugani and my supervisor at Homeless Children’s Education Fund, Chris McAneny. For three days in October, I would be attending a DBT STEPS-A Facilitator Training in New York. Excitement sent a wave of chills all around my body after receiving the news. Attending this training is a dream for a fresh-out-of-college Bachelor of Social Work professional, and I am one of the lucky few to have had this opportunity!

DBT STEPS-A is an acronym for Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Training for Emotional Problem Solving for Adolescents. 

The 15th of October was a long day filled with driving, sightseeing, and jamming out to my proudly-made Spotify playlists. Avoiding toll roads, I decided to take a more scenic route and I’m glad I did! The hilltops of Pennsylvania during autumn bring a fresh perspective after being in a big city like Pittsburgh for over a month at this point. (I absolutely LOVE Pittsburgh, and I miss my Michigan backyard.)

The training was insightful towards what I will be doing during my time facilitating, and learning how to best impact those I will be interacting with. Working with Dr. Liz Dexter-Mazza and Dr. James (Jim) Mazza was beyond wonderful. Both are down to earth, well-experienced, and are dedicated to serving communities DBT STEPS-A supports. It’s understandable that people may be turned off by the idea of DBT STEPS-A. The word therapy is a turn-off for many people, as not everyone is ready to face their past or present trauma in a therapeutic way. As Dr. Liz and Dr. Jim mentioned, DBT STEPS-A is not a therapy, as we only focus on the delivery of the skills to reduce or increase target behaviors.

For example: a student may kick a wall each time they are angry. The target behavior is to stop kicking the wall. The way to address that target behavior is through one of the skills learned through DBT STEPS-A. 

Another key component is dialectics. How can two seemingly opposite statements, both be true? It’s easier than you may think. Switch the ‘but’ to an ‘and’. (The ‘but’ is essentially a GIANT eraser of what was previously said.) As exampled way above “I absolutely LOVE Pittsburgh, but and I miss my Michigan backyard.” Keeping the ‘but’ erases the feeling of loving Pittsburgh, and only focuses on missing Michigan which is not the point. Both statements are true for myself. Another common example: I’m sorry someone stole your bike, but and you need a new one. 

After each session I had free time, which was my time to shine in Sleepy Hollow.

I attended the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze. Over 1,000 pumpkins were hand carved and crafted into beautiful sights. The second night, I walked throughout the cemetery- which would be its own city. While walking around, I managed to discover this is where the legendary bridge resides. Still proud and true to the original architecture. Luckily a kind couple saw me struggling to get a quality picture of myself on the bridge and offered to take a picture for me. That Saturday I was reluctant on stopping in Scranton, PA. I went for it anyway, because anyone who knows me understands my love for The Office.

I couldn’t have made this trip possible by myself. So many hands were there to lift me up, give me support, and to hold. A big thank you to Dr. Carla Chugani, Chris McAneny, Carlos Carter, MJ Meenen, PULSE staff, as well as, my family and dear friends who bought me coffee that week.

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