Aims of this module
Using counseling conversations and structured exercises, these practice elements provide a variety of different opportunities in which young people can learn:

  • How to recognise the presence or emergence of strong emotions before they become overwhelming;
  • How emotions are linked to thoughts and behaviours in triads that reinforce each other;
  • The particular triads of emotions, thoughts and behaviours that affect the young person;
  • Factors affecting physical health that help us to cope better with strong emotions;
  • Unhelpful thinking styles or patterns that make the person vulnerable to strong negative emotions, and ways of altering these thinking styles, and
  • Ways of increasing the experience, and awareness, of positive emotions that can counteract the effects of negative emotions.

When should this module be used?
The following conditions are provided as examples of situations in which the Emotion Regulation module is likely to be of benefit for clients. This list is not exhaustive. The potential benefits of this module should be discussed with the client and their agreement obtained.

  • One or more of the client’s primary goals involves getting better control of an emotion such as anger, or persistently intrusive feelings of self-hatred.
  • Overwhelming emotions and associated behaviours are interfering with progress towards another primary goal.
  • Functional analysis of substance use identifies overwhelming emotions or very painful feelings as a frequent trigger for substance use.
  • Persistent suicidality, self-harming behaviours, or violence and verbal abuse are among the presenting issues or have been identified as problem issues in assessment.
  • High levels of interpersonal conflict are a concern for the young person, and poorly regulated emotions on their part appear to be contributing to the conflict.

The practice elements identified for emotion regulation can be included in care plans that also include case work, foundation counselling and other therapeutic modules selected on the basis of individual needs.

Considerations for different practice contexts
Outreach settings
offer practitioners the advantage of spending time with the young person in a variety of natural contexts in which emotion regulation skills are tested. Workers can observe young people responding to stressors that arise naturally in their daily life and make accurate and context relevant assessments of their abilities.

Clinical settings provide a safe and contained space for young people to work through issues associated with emotional dysregulation and to make a concentrated effort to learn the skills required for better emotional regulation. 

Day programs are safe but (not entirely private) spaces that young people can access as the need arises.  This means young people might choose to attend to find relief from particular stressors and emergence of strong emotions before they become overwhelming.

Open access day programs are contained environments offering young people the chance to participate in an unstructured way, sometimes for extended periods. This offers practitioners the advantage of spending time with the young person and witnessing the way they respond to particular stressors. Both strengths and limitations can be recognised and emotion regulation skills can be tested.

There is also an opportunity to turn day programs into ‘closed environments’ (access only for select clients) to conduct specific programming. This might involve groupwork with the aim of building emotional regulation skills of clients.

Residential service settings offer practitioners the advantage of directly observing young people using various behavioural strategies in an effort to regulate their emotions, and to provide clear, predictable and respectful feedback as soon as these are observed.

It is important to note however that residential settings alter the presence of contextual stressors that may trigger problematic emotions, and change the range of strategies that are available for emotion regulation.

In terms of contextual stressors for example, although young people are removed from stressors in their natural environments that may exacerbate negative emotions (e.g. conflict in the family home) they may also be exposed to new stressors or challenging situations such as the constant presence of other young people and the rules and regulations of the residential unit.

In terms of strategies for emotion regulation, residential settings remove access to some methods that young people use to regulate their emotions, and this may lead to a shift in the methods used. For example, an increase in the incidence of self-harm is sometimes observed in young people while they are in residential settings. This may occur because substance use is banned in residential settings and is no longer available as an option for emotion regulation. Residential settings may also unwittingly limit access to some positive means of emotion regulation such as favourite activities.