Provide Psychosocial Skills Training and Cognitive Behavioral Interventions
What to Know
Psychosocial skills training and cognitive behavioral interventions teach specific skills to students to help them cope with challenging situations, set goals, understand their thoughts, and change behaviors using problem-solving strategies.
Psychosocial skills training asks students to explore whether their behaviors align with their personal values. Cognitive behavioral interventions teach students to identify their own unhelpful thoughts and replace them with thoughts that are more helpful. Students might practice helpful coping behaviors and find positive activities to try. Doing these things can improve their mood and other symptoms of mental distress.
Districts and schools can deliver interventions in one-on-one settings, small groups, and classrooms. Some interventions focus on concepts that are also taught in social skill and emotional development programs, like self-control and decision-making. A counselor or therapist can lead these programs.
What Can Schools Do?
Promote Acceptance and Commitment to Change
Schools can help promote acceptance and positive behavior change for students through psychosocial skills training and dialectical behavior therapy. Psychosocial skills training asks students to explore whether their behaviors align with their personal values. Students who see that their behavior does not match their values can decide to make behavior changes. These trainings also help students accept what they cannot change and focus on what they can change. Dialectical behavior therapy teaches mindfulness, acceptance, and commitment skills.
Approaches using acceptance and commitment to change are associated with increases in students’ coping skills and decreases in depression and physical symptoms of depression.
Provide Cognitive Behavioral Interventions
Cognitive behavioral interventions for schools often include multiple sessions. They can be used for one student or a small group. Sessions often follow a standardized manual of activities to help students examine their own thoughts and behaviors. The interventions can include asking students to share what they learn about their thoughts and behaviors with their parents and other people. In some interventions, session leaders focus on a specific topic. Other interventions target mental health symptoms, like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress.
Cognitive behavioral interventions can improve students’ mental health in many ways, including decreasing anxiety, depression, and symptoms related to post-traumatic stress.
Engage Students in Coping Skills Training Groups
Coping skills training groups use principles of cognitive behavioral intervention to teach students skills to help them handle specific problems. Students can also use these skills to help them cope when their lives are changing. Similar to social, emotional, and behavioral learning programs, coping skills training often focuses on building resilience, or being able to “bounce back” when bad things happen. Students can practice skills outside of the small group, like they would with social skills and emotional development lessons.
Coping skills training groups can increase coping skills for students and decrease anxiety and depression.
Focus on Equity
Students who have been exposed to trauma may receive trauma-focused or trauma-informed interventions in school. Cognitive behavioral interventions that are trauma-informed meet the unique needs of students exposed to traumatic experiences. These interventions teach problem-solving and relaxation techniques and help reduce trauma-related symptoms, including behavioral challenges. Trauma-informed interventions can also improve students’ coping strategies.
Cognitive behavioral interventions and psychosocial skills training help with many kinds of student needs. They can be used at multiple grade levels. Leaders can:
- Work with school mental health staff to find ways for students to practice their new behaviors and coping skills.
- Use the Multitiered Systems of Support (MTSS) framework to ensure that students are appropriately matched with classroom, small-group, or individual interventions that meet their needs.
Want to Learn More?
For more details on MTSS and providing psychosocial skills training and cognitive behavioral interventions, see Strategies for Promoting Mental Health and Well-Being in Schools: An Action Guide for School Administrators [PDF - 3 MB]