The Rising Need for DBT in College Mental Health with Carla Chugani, PhD, LPC

Posted: January 24, 2023

After many years of working with young adults and studying dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), Carla D. Chugani, PhD, LPC, is bringing the first self-guided DBT skills program designed for college and university students to market.

Dozens of wellness programs exist, promising quick and easy tips for better living, but few are designed through the lenses of both evidence-based practice and cultural humility, while keeping the developmental needs of college students in mind. DBT is a unique combination of mindfulness, cognitive behavior therapy, and dialectics. It has proven effective for treating college students with self-injurious behaviors, suicidality, or borderline personality disorder, among several other mental health conditions. 

Recognizing the Need for DBT

As a master’s student in mental health counseling at Florida Gulf Coast University, Dr. Chugani saw how many students were struggling with borderline personality disorder, suicide ideation, non-suicidal self-injury, and other mental health conditions. She believed DBT could help – and, Jon Bunner, PhD, Senior Director of Counseling and Wellness Services, agreed. 

Dr. Chugani led the development of Florida Gulf Coast University’s first DBT program for college students. Her experiences with that program motivated her to go back to school, this time for a PhD in counselor education, after which she brought her knowledge and expertise in DBT to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, where she still remains as an adjunct faculty member.  

Learning to be a DBT therapist gave me an opportunity to help other people who have suffered in the ways that I have suffered. Nothing has ever made me more proud or humbled than the number of students who told me these skills I taught them have changed their lives.

While she loves the treatment, Dr. Chugani is constantly reflecting on the effectiveness of the treatment, believing there are still ways in which it can improve. Dr. Chugani’s most recent research focused on teaching DBT skills as psychoeducation rather than therapy, which allowed her to learn about the ways in which DBT materials may need to be adapted to reach larger, more diverse audiences.

Reimagining Student Mental Health Care

DBT, while scientifically proven to be effective, is also expensive and hard to access for many college students who may be on their parents insurance, uninsured, or unable to find a quality DBT provider in their community. This is, in part, why Dr. Chugani took on the role of VP of Clinical Content and Affairs at Mantra Health. She hopes to change this reality. She’s also focused on normalizing and destigmatizing mental health care – and making clinical content more accessible to students who want to improve their well-being.

 “We aren’t born with all of the life skills we need to survive and thrive,” says Dr. Chugani. “For many college students, devoting time to improving mental health while dealing with a busy class schedule, work, and personal responsibilities is a significant challenge. We must acknowledge the pressures and demands on students’ time and find realistic ways to help them develop healthy skills that will serve them in the transition to adulthood and beyond.”

The new DBT skills program, which launches in spring 2023, will help students develop skills in key areas related to self regulation, including mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and relationships. Best of all, students will be able to access the evidence-based lessons at any time and on their own schedule, so they can engage with the program at their own pace.

“I’m excited about the launch and I hope we can find innovative ways to integrate the program onto campuses in ways that are meaningful and responsive to the student experience,” says Dr. Chugani. 

To learn more about Dr. Chugani’s new DBT program for students, which is currently being piloted, please reach out to us at