Regulate emotions. Maximize potential.

The Skills System is a user-friendly set of emotion regulation skills, designed to help people of various ages and abilities, manage emotions. It helps us be aware of our current moment, think through the situation, and take goal-directed actions that align with our values.

Learn About the Skills System

Download the FREE Skills System App

Training Data

Individuals who participated in 2-Day Instructor’s trainings have an opportunity to complete a survey 3-8 months after the training. The charts below summarize the participants’ follow-up reflections about the Skills System and their training experience. The data includes information about who is using the Skills System, how the Skills System helps people, clinical utility of the model, and observed outcomes.

Section 1: Who is Using the Skills System.

Age Groups the Skills System is Used With

Settings Where the Skills System is Used

Modalities the Skills System is Used With

Diagnoses of People Who Use the Skills System

The Skills System is a user-friendly set of emotion regulation skills, designed to help people of various ages and abilities, manage emotions. Learning how to regulate emotions enables us to be present in the moment and be more effective–even in stressful situations. Over- and under-reacting can cause more stress and problems. The Skills System helps us be aware of our current moment, think through the situation, and take goal-directed actions that align with our values.

A key benefit of the Skills System is that it helps us co-regulate—allowing us to work collaboratively with other people to manage emotions. When we, and the people around us, know the Skills System, we share a common language. We are able to connect. We are able to give and receive effective skills coaching. These types of interactions often lead to growth and development for ourselves and the people around us.

Unfortunately in many settings, co-regulation happens less often than co-dysregulation—when we find ourselves working against each other, rather than together, to manage emotions. Connections become strained, potentially leading to higher stress levels and environmental conflict.

Thankfully, the Skills System provides an integrated skill-set that makes us better able to self-regulate and co-regulate.

The Skills System can be taught to and used by:

  • Young and old;
  • People with and without mental health and learning challenges;
  • In personal and professional parts of our lives.

Committing to learn the Skills System concepts helps us Use, Coach and Teach Skills.

In therapeutic settings, the Skills System offers practitioners and their clients a tangible skills-set that is accessible to people with diverse mental health and learning profiles. It is a therapeutic tool that can be used in conjunction with comprehensive treatments such as DBT, Motivational Interviewing, Positive Behavior Supports, and Trauma-Informed therapies.

Collateral support people, such as staff, teachers, or family members can learn the Skills System and function as in-vivo Skills Coaches in an individual’s natural environment. Having information about emotion regulation strategies allows the support person to help the individual manage emotions, versus suppress, avoid or react behaviorally to them. Ineffective supports can exacerbate behavioral dysregulation, resulting in transactions involving co-dysregulation versus co-regulation between people. The Skills System becomes a common language that may (1) improve the clients’ generalization of emotion regulation strategies and (2) foster attunement in relationships.

The experience of supporting an individual with complex behavioral health issues can evoke emotional escalation for the support person. When collateral support providers understand the Skills System, they have tools to help them engage in self-regulation strategies so they remain effective even in high stress situations. When the coach is regulated, the individual is able to access the coach’s supports more readily, reducing conflict and co-dysregulation.

There are multiple resources that help us learn the Skills System.

E-Learning: The Skills System Course 1, Skills Basics, teaches the nine core skills and System Tools of the Skills System. Course 2, Skills Coaching Strategies, helps staff and others learn how to provide skills coaching for the people they work or live with. Both courses have short, fun videos, practice exercises, and many visual aids to make learning engaging. Each course takes approximately 2.5 hours to complete. Click below to learn more.

Consultation: There are two types of Skills System consultation:

  • Consultation Community: On the first Friday of each month at noon EST there is a 1-hour live online group consultation with Dr. Brown called the Consultation Community. A wide range or relevant topics associated with application, instruction, and implementation are addressed. Join us!
  • Team consultation: Teams can purchase 1-hour remote consultations to support their organizations to implement the Skills System.

Skills System Text: The Skills System textbook (2016) contains a detailed 12-week group for clinicians who want to run skills groups for vulnerable learners, as well as, 150 downloadable and printable Skills System handouts. The handouts can be used in conjunction with the e-learning to enhance that learning experience. Here is a link to Guilford Press to buy the Skills System text.

Training: The treatment developer, Dr. Julie Brown, provides 2-Day live online Skills System Instruction Trainings that help practitioners learn how to teach skills to individuals who experience behavioral health and learning challenges.

The Skills System is used with many populations, in various types of settings. The model is used by individuals, families and by treatment providers. People with and without mental health/learning challenges use the Skills System model to improve emotion regulation capacities. It is implemented with youth who experience behavioral control problems, transitional-aged youths, adults, and geriatric populations. The model is designed to be accessible to diverse populations, such as people with severe mental illness, intellectual disabilities, and/or autism spectrum disorder. Practitioners providing treatment in the areas of substance abuse, forensic services, and crisis supports also use the model.

The Skills System can be implemented in short- and long-term treatment programs that offer:

  • Out-patient
  • Community-based
  • School-based
  • Community residences
  • Residential
  • Inpatient Services

Model Integration: When implementing the Skills System, it is necessary to integrate the skills concepts with other models that an agency uses. The Skills System plays well with others! Although the Skills System was specifically designed to be used within DBT, it can offer a tangible emotion regulation skill-set within motivational interviewing, trauma-informed approaches, and positive behavioral supports.

Click in the Implementation button to learn more about the 3-Stage Skills System Implementation Process and to download resources designed to help your team begin the implementation process.

See the Sample Skills System Handouts.

Watch this video to sample the Skills System e-learning Skills Basics course.

The DBT skills concepts were created for individuals who experienced high levels of emotional, cognitive, and behavioral dysregulation. Unfortunately, the Standard DBT skills curricula are not accessible for people with significant learning challenges. Cognitive load demands are too high to allow for learning, free recall, and generalization in the natural environment. Most specifically:

  • Language was too complex
  • Divided into four modules – Difficult to integrate concepts
  • Hundreds of discreet skills
  • No mechanism for people to know what skill to use when
  • No system for linking skills; no connective tissue; lily pads vs. chains
  • No structure that differentiated skills you use at low/high levels of emotion

Skills System Adaptation of DBT:

The goal in creating the Skills System was to use a DBT-based framework that helped people experience a dialectical synthesis (the ability to be in pain AND be effective at the same time) versus polarization during emotional, cognitive, behavioral, relationship, and self-processes in complex life contexts.

Simultaneously, the framework had to be accessible for (1) Individuals diagnosed with moderate/mild ID (who often have limited reading abilities and impaired executive functioning) and (2) simple enough for collateral support providers to learn given the limited time/resources that are often available for training. Both of these groups had to be able to learn essential concepts, be able to recall them under-pressure, assemble adequate skills chains to manage the span of a dysregulation emotion, and generalize these capacities into diverse, real-life contexts.

The De-construction and Re-construction Process:

This process involved de-constructing essential DBT processes, re-labeling, and reorganizing the concepts in a way that (1) provided effective emotions regulation strategies in the re-constructed form and (2) minimized extraneous cognitive load demands. The work of James Gross, PhD (editor of the Emotion Regulation Handbook, 2007, 2014) was integrated to ensure that all aspects of emotion regulation processes were addressed in the Skills System model; Dr. Gross also reviewed and endorsed the Skills System prior to the publication of this model. The work of Sweller (Cognitive Load Theory, 1988, 2010) guided the design of both the Skills System model and teaching strategies.

The Skills System Design

  • Framework breaks complex tasks into component parts – Task Analysis
  • Integrates mindfulness strategies and goal directed thinking that lead the individual to execute goal-directed actions
  • Provides clear, strategic steps (micro-transitions) to create adaptive chains of behavior
  • The tools have to be flexible enough to be able to adapt to internal and external changes in the moment
  • The skills and the “system” function as cognitive scaffolding to help navigation (being present & effective) across the spans of emotions

Scholars Who Endorsed the Skills System Model:

  • Marsha M. Linehan, PhD, ABPP: Professor and Director, Behavioral Research and Therapy Clinics, University of Washington; Developer of DBT
  • James J. Gross, PhD: Department of Psychology, Stanford University
  • Kelly Koerner, PhD: Creative Director, Evidence-Based Practice Institute, Seattle
  • Robert J. Fletcher, DSW, ACSW: Founder and former CEO of NADD (National Association of Dually Diagnosed)
  • Alan E. Fruzzetti, PhD: Professor and Director, Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Research Program, Department of Psychology, University of Nevada, Reno
  • Jill H. Rathus, PhD: Department of Psychology, Long Island University, C.W. Post Campus
  • Donald Meichenbaum, PhD: Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Waterloo, Canada; Research Director, The Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention, Miami, Florida
  • Alec L. Miller, PsyD: Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Albert Einstein College of Medicine


Messages from Julie F. Brown, PhD, developer of the Skills System

Development of ASL Translation

Dr. Jana Dreyzehner MD Coordinated the translation of the E-Learning videos into American Sign Language (ASL). Dr. Dreyzehner wrote the following description of the collaboration that made this amazing process possible. Thank you all! Development of ASL Translation Our Deaf Services clinical team at Life Connect Health has been [...]

The E-Learning is Available in Spanish!

The Spanish language option is now available on the E-Learning dashboard. Once the person chooses Spanish, they can: Watch Spanish subtitled videos. Complete exercises in Spanish. Download the skills map, skills cards, and skills posters that are in Spanish. Many thanks to the DBT team in Argentina and in [...]

Handouts for Children are Now Available!

The Skills System workgroup of practitioners who work with children completed a set of adapted handouts for Elementary children and High School students. The worked examples were adapted to be age-appropriate and relevant for these age groups. If you have purchased the Emotion Regulation Skills System text (2016), you [...]

Skills System Textbook

The Emotion Regulation Skills System for the Cognitively Challenged Client: A DBT™-Informed Approach (2016) by Julie F. Brown, PhD, is available through Guildford Press and Amazon. This book provides a comprehensive presentation of the Skills System curriculum materials, and allows the purchaser to download an additional 150 pages of supplementary handouts. The Skills System is a highly effective treatment tool that has been used successfully in a multitude of settings with a myriad of individuals who have diverse behavioral and learning profiles.