Center for Personalized Prevention at the University of Minnesota

May 10, 2016 | Projects

The University of Minnesota Center for Personalized Prevention Research (CPPR) in conjunction with Headway Emotional Health Services is offering Learning to Breathe as part of a proposed research project. For the past two years Headway clinicians have been offering Learning to Breathe (L2B) as part of their youth diversion program. The program serves youth ages 13 to 17 who have been referred to Headway by the County Attorney’s Office after committing a minor legal offense. Participation in L2B and the research project is voluntary. It is one of several ways that youth may complete their diversion contract. Headway staff are licensed clinicians who have received MBSR training. Many have also received training from Dr. Broderick and specialized L2B training offered by the CPPR team. CPPR observes the clinicians to provide ongoing coaching and fidelity monitoring.

Youth referred to L2B are often skeptical at first. Particularly since they are expecting a “consequence” for their illegal behavior. However most youth find the program enjoyable and engaging. Data is being collected regarding youth characteristics, youth satisfaction with the program and the program’s impact on youth behavior.

The research component is designed to explore underlying mechanisms by which L2B impacts youth’s emotional regulation. Deficits in emotional regulation are one of the known precursors of conduct disorder. Youth in diversion programs represent a group at high risk for deficits in emotion regulation and ultimately for the development of conduct disorder. It makes sense to use non-stigmatizing programs such as L2B for early intervention with these youth.

In particular CPPR hopes to study the impact of L2B on several mechanisms thought to underlie poor emotion regulation: overly reactive autonomic nervous system (ANS) and poor executive functioning. There are good theoretical reasons to believe that mindfulness programs like L2B may impact either or both of these conditions. CPPR hopes to study the ANS and executive functioning of youth in the diversion population and the longer-term relationships between these factors and illegal behavior. In addition CPPR will look at youth characteristics that may predict who responds strongly to L2B and who does not.

The extent of youth engagement in L2B and the amount of youths’ ongoing practice of mindfulness may be important factors influencing the impact of L2B for any given individual. CPPR and Headway hope to implement an enhanced version of L2B to look at our ability to promote engagement in youth who might otherwise be resistant. Modifications will include increased discussion of adolescent brain development and its impact on behavior; motivational enhancement techniques, coaching, monitoring and rewarding home practice; and creating support in the youth’s natural networks. Results of enhanced L2B will be compared to standard L2B and the most effective and practical version will be used in future research.

For more information, contact Dr. Joel Hetler, Center for Personalized Prevention Research
University of Minnesota
Urban Research & Outreach/Engagement Center (UROC)

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