Skills System 2-Day Training

Skills and Skills Coaching Strategies

March 30-31, 2020 | Needham, MA

On March 30-31, 2020, Julie F. Brown, PhD, will be conducting a 2-day Skills System training in Needham, MA, (160 Gould Street) sponsored by Justice Resource Institute. The Skills System is a DBT-Informed emotion regulation skills curriculum that practitioners can teach to (a) individuals with complex learning/behavioral health challenges and (b) the staff/family members that support them. The training will cover: Introduction to emotion regulation, The Skills List & System Tools, All-the-Time Skills & Calm Only Skills, Skills coaching techniques, and Skills instruction.

100% proceeds from this training will be donated to RAW Haiti. Click below to learn more.

Click Here to Learn More/Buy Tickets

Skills System E-Learning — Introductory Offers

There are THREE types of memberships: Individual, Group, and Clinician.


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 e-learning Skills Basics course teaches the user the nine core skills and System Tools in the Skills System. There are video lessons, practice exercises, and visual aids to download. It takes approximately 2.5 hours to complete. The introductory price is $20 per person, per year! It is flexible, feasible, and fun. The Skills Basics course is ideal for individuals, families, small- and larger agencies. To learn more about the e-learning, press the E-Learning tab below.

Team Consultation: Teams can participate in remote video/phone consultation with Dr. Brown. Click on the Consultation tab to learn about:

  • The Skills System agency 3-stage implementation process;
  • Download helpful resources, and;
  • Schedule consultation sessions with the Skills System developer.

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 is available, to provide one- or two-day on-site trainings, that cover the topics such as:

  • Skills coaching
  • Running skills groups
  • Integrating the Skills System into individual therapy, and
  • Program implementation.

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 Consultation 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

Skills System Competency Questionnaire (SSCQ)

Although the Skills System is user-friendly model, becoming a skills instructor who teaches individuals with complex issues and trains their staff/family members how to skills coach, requires a high level of Skills System competency. The SSCQ is a tools that prompts self-reflection and orients you to the different aspects that are involved in being able to use the Skills System model to its fullest potential.

Recent Publication: Free PDF Download

Brown, J.B., Hamilton-Mason, J., Maramaldi, P., & Barnhill, L.J. (2018). Beyond the Surface of Consumer-Staff RelationshipsGlobal Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, 4(4), 1-6.

Abstract: The perspectives of individuals diagnosed with an intellectual disability and mental illness who demonstrate challenging behaviors are underrepresented in the literature. The goal of this study was to explore the perspectives of consumers with a dual-diagnosis on their relationships with staff. This qualitative constructivist grounded theory study included 30 individuals with mild or moderate intellectual disabilities, at least one co-occurring mental health diagnosis, and a history of challenging behaviors.

Recent Publication: Free PDF Download

Brown, J.B., Hamilton-Mason, J., Maramaldi, P., & Barnhill, L.J. (2017) Communication Crossroads. Global Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, 3(4): 555616.

This review examines an emergent analysis in a constructivist grounded theory qualitative study that explored how bi-directional communication patterns were observed impacting the demonstration of cognitive strengths of individuals with intellectual disabilities, mental health issues, and histories of challenging behaviors in a focus group setting.

The Carlat Report-Psychiatry

The literature highlights that individuals with intellectual disabilities experience higher rates of mental illness than non-disabled counter-parts. Despite these increased vulnerabilities, the availability of ID-specific psychiatric and psychological treatments are limited. Please download this edition of The Carlat Report-Psychiatry for an excellent overview of psychiatric services for individuals with dual-diagnosis by Julie Gentile, MD. Additionally, on pages 6-7 there is an introduction to the Skills System that was developed by Julie Brown, PhD.

Improving Assess of DBT for Individuals with Cognitive Challenges

Individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) experience heighten vulnerabilities related to complex biopsychosocial factors, yet have limited access to comprehensive psychologically-based treatments to address these pervasive problems. Dr. Brown, a DBT trainer with Behavioral Tech, LLC- Linehan Institute, was invited to write a book chapter about how to adapt DBT for individuals with ID.

Translating the Skills System Handouts into Other Languages

The Skills system handouts are currently available in English, Swedish and Icelandic. Teams are working on Dutch and Korean translations.

The following steps we taken by a team in Sweden to translate the Skills System handouts into Swedish. They did an amazing job with this challenging project and kindly shared the steps they took to execute this achievement. If you are interested in facilitating a translation, please feel free to contact me about this process.

 Jump in With Both Feet!

It has come to my attention that many newcomers to the Skills System and those who have been using the model for years are continuing to utilize the 2011 self-published text (The Skills System Instructor’s Guide: An Emotion Regulation Skills Curriculum for All Learning Abilities). I would recommend everyone invest in the 2016 Guilford Press version (The Emotion Regulation Skills system: A DBT-Informed Approach). While the core elements remained the same in the update, there are a few sub-skill changes that clarify Skills System mechanisms. The new text providers a clearer theoretical framework and …

A New Article! Free Download!

This article, recently published in the Journal of Mental Health Research in Intellectual Disabilities is entitled Exploring Perspectives of Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities and Histories of Challenging Behaviors about Family Relationships: An Emergent Topic in a Grounded Theory Focus Group Study. This is a unique piece of research because it explores the complex topic of family relationships from the perspective of individuals who are diagnosed with an intellectual disability that have one/more co-occurring mental illnesses and histories of challenging behaviors.

New Instant Best Seller!

The Emotion Regulation Skills System for the Cognitively Challenged Client: A DBT™-Informed Approach (Brown, 2016) was recently deemed a Guilford Press Instant Best Seller. Click the link below to go to Guilford Press to get your copy. Thank you all for purchasing the revised version of the Skills System!

Check out the New Blog Posts by Dr. Susan Vaught & Deborah Jackson, LICSW

Dr. Vaught added a post entitled The Competency Vacuum that addresses the difficulties associated with treating individuals with complex mental health and learning challenges. Deborah Jackson’s post discusses using the Skills System with forensic populations.

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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.

Available at Guilford Press