Step-UPP® for Teens

Adolescents face a wide range of stressors, from mild to severe, throughout their developmental stage. These stressors can have varying impacts on their academic and social functioning. Mild problems may include anxiety about dating, skipping classes, managing workload, or breaking curfew, while severe issues may involve self-harm, substance abuse, family conflict, or legal trouble. Adolescence is a crucial time for emotional growth, and most mental health disorders tend to emerge during this period. Rather than waiting for symptoms to escalate, we believe in a proactive approach that focuses on equipping adolescents with skills for emotion management and decision-making. Unfortunately, schools often lack courses on stress coping and decision-making, which has led to the creation of STEP-UPP®.


Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) was developed by psychologist Marsha M. Linehan in the late 1980s.
In 2016, drawing on the fundamental principles of DBT, such as emotional regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and mindfulness, the
Step-Upp® Teens programme was meticulously developed to equip children with the essential skills they need to navigate life’s challenges and build a solid foundation for their future success. Step-upp® is the original DBT programme is South Africa. The tweens programme followed and The Adult and Parents programmes naturally developed in support.

STEP-UPP® addresses four main areas of concern for teens: difficulty managing emotions, confusion about self/distraction, impulsiveness, and interpersonal problems. The four main areas in which teens typically develop problems (difficulty managing emotions, anxiety, confusion about self/distraction, impulsive behaviours, and interpersonal problems) and the four DBT® skills modules that can address the problems (Emotional Regulation, Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, and Interpersonal Effectiveness, respectively).

These modules teach skills such as recognising and naming emotions, decreasing unpleasant emotions, increasing self-awareness and attention control, enduring emotional distress without impulsive actions, and improving interpersonal interactions


Adolescents often experience intense and rapidly changing emotions, which can lead to impulsive behaviors based on emotions. Sometimes teens struggle to recognize their emotions or the physical sensations associated with them. The skills taught in the Emotion Regulation module address the identification and labeling of emotions, as well as strategies to decrease unpleasant emotions and increase positive ones.


Adolescence is a time when students are developing who they are, what they like, their values, and their goals. Peer pressure, social media, and other environmental pressures can make it difficult for teenagers to understand themselves. It is also a time when distraction and loss of focus are problems. Confusion about the self and distraction can be improved by using the skills taught in the Mindfulness module (again, often referred to as “core” mindfulnessskills to emphasize their importance). These skills increase self-awareness and control of attention. These skills are necessary for making centered, grounded decisions about the self, as well as focusing the mind (on classwork or other activities).


Teens can engage in a variety of problematic impulsive behaviours. Sometimes impulsive behaviours function as an escape from painful emotions. The skills taught in the Distress Tolerance module help to make emotional distress more endurable so that students do not act impulsively and exacerbate the situation.


Many people struggle with how to ask others for things they want, say no to things they don’t want, build and maintain long-term relationships, and maintain self-respect during interpersonal interactions. The three primary sets of skills in the Interpersonal Effectiveness module are strategies for increasing success in each of these difficult areas

The primary objective of STEP-UPP® is skill acquisition.  Students learn skills through instruction and practice. Lessons focus on the rationale, examples, and implementation of each skill. Homework promotes skill generalisation by encouraging practice outside the programme. Each module offers multiple skills for students to choose from based on what works best for them. By explicitly teaching DBT skills and meeting emotional needs, STEP-UPP® aims to enhance academic learning, social-emotional development, and equip students with tools for their transition into adulthood.