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Individuals who have experienced trauma, particularly complex trauma, often present with a wide range of difficulties that do not fit neatly into standard or uniform case formulations. Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) offers an effective transdiagnostic treatment for the sequelae of trauma, that can include dysregulation of emotions, cognitions, behavior, interpersonal and self. The power of DBT comes from its well-articulated theory, protocol, and multiple strategies that allow for thoughtful and genuine therapeutic collaboration, and its simultaneous embrace of acceptance-validation and cognitive-behavioral change strategies. DBT has been found to be effective in helping people who experience intense emotional suffering and maladaptive coping skills to “create a life that’s worth living.”

In this workshop, Debbie and Robin will introduce the foundational knowledge of DBT and demonstrate how to apply DBT to work with a heterogeneous and complex population of individuals, including individuals with complex trauma histories. They will review empirical support for DBT, introduce core principles of DBT treatment, the assumptions and agreements about therapy in DBT, the structure of DBT treatment, explain the transactional biosocial processes that underlie pervasive dysregulation, and the skills that clients learn in DBT. They will also focus specifically on trauma treatment fits within the parameters and stages of DBT, including information on cutting edge interventions. Participants will learn through a combination of didactic material, role-plays, and experiential activities for a full-bodied understanding of applying DBT in their therapeutic practice.

As a comprehensive treatment, DBT can:

  • Decrease the frequency and severity of self-destructive behaviors.
  • Increase the motivation to change by providing positive reinforcement.
  • Teach “coping skills” that generalize to a person’s environment.
  • Provide a treatment environment that emphasizes the strengths of both individuals and their treatments.
  • Enhance the therapist’s motivation and ability to treat clients effectively.


Robin Sansing, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with more than ten years of counseling, teaching and coaching experience. She is a faculty member at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in the School of Social Work, where she co-taught a course on DBT with Debbie Barrett, for which they received a teaching award. In addition, Robin has a small thriving psychotherapy practice where she utilizes DBT with groups and individuals. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Interpersonal Studies from Prescott College, and a Master’s degree in Social Work from North Carolina State University.  In her leisure time, Robin enjoys spending time with her family, hiking, cycling, practicing yoga and meditation, and taking her dog, Kira, for long walks.

Deborah  (Debbie) Barrett, PhD, LCSW is a Clinical Associate Professor in the School of Social Work and the Department of Medicine in Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is committed to increasing access to mental health services and helped found the Pro Bono Counseling Network, currently housed at Freedom House, where she continues to serve on its advisory board. In 2005, she founded the UNC Clinical Lecture Series at the School of Social Work, and has been growing the series to meet changing demands. From 2006 to 2016, Debbie co-facilitated two weekly, low-fee DBT groups in private practice (including four years with Robin), and currently facilitates “dialectical pain management” groups at UNC Psychiatry outpatient practice, which she applies DBT principles in a novel intervention focused on physical pain and associated distress. She is passionate about improving life for individuals suffering with chronic pain, and thus provides trainings whenever asked and penned a self-help book on pain management.


Clinical Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work

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