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Mental Health


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Social skills training (SST)

Social skills training (SST) teaches people how to better communicate their feelings, thoughts, and needs to others. It also teaches them how to better respond to other people’s feelings, thoughts, and needs. Social skills help people to get what they want more often and help them to avoid doing things that they do not want to do. SST helps provide the supports and skills that individuals need to develop the roles and goals linked to their recovery.

People with serious mental illness may experience many problems in their relationships with others, including doctors, family members, and friends. These problems can make it difficult to get along in the world and may lead to a lower quality of life. For many Veterans, poor social functioning is related to social skills deficits. For example, some Veterans may have difficulty starting a conversation, speak in a low monotone voice, or have trouble establishing eye contact. SST helps to address these difficulties. SST can also help build on a Veteran’s strengths in social skills. Helping Veterans to improve their social skills can improve their social functioning in the community.

There are many possible causes of skill deficits in people with serious mental illness. Some Veterans become ill before they have been able to fully develop their social skills. Others may have grown up in an environment in which they did not have good role models. Still others may have learned good social skills but later lost them as they developed their illness and withdrew from other people. Those who have spent long periods of time in hospitals may be out of practice and may need help relearning skills and knowing when to use them. Social skills deficits may also be related to illness-related changes in the brain. Any combination of these possibilities can contribute to deficits in social skills.

Social skills training (SST) is a set of techniques used to teach social skills to individuals. SST involves the following steps and is typically provided in group format:

  1. Provide a rationale or help Veterans to understand why it is important to learn the skill.
  2. Clearly define each of the steps of the social skill being taught.
  3. Demonstrate (model) the skill in a role play.
  4. Involve each Veteran in a series of role plays in which positive and supportive feedback is provided to the Veteran after each role play. The goal is to improve the Veteran’s social skills performance on the next role play.
  5. Encourage the Veteran to practice on his or her own at home or in the community before the next session.

A wide variety of social skills can be taught, depending on the Veteran’s needs. Some of the most common skills include starting and maintaining conversations, asking for help from others, expressing feelings, resolving conflicts, making friends, and being assertive.

SST is different from other types of therapy groups, in that group members actively work toward solving problems and work on personal goals during session. Group members practice different skills during the group and then try out these skills in real-life situations. Group members work on personal goals as part of social skills training.

Social skills training can help you communicate better with your friends, relatives, and employers. It can help you talk to people you are interested in dating. You can focus on skills that will allow you to become more independent. Social skills training can help you build on your existing strengths and improve the skills you need to achieve almost any goal you choose. Before the first session, each group member meets with a group leader. The leader helps the group member identify his or her own personal goals to work on in group. Group members are asked to attend group sessions regularly, sometimes twice per week. They must be willing to practice social skills which will help improve communication with others. Group members learn about new skills and discuss how to use them in their lives. When they are ready, they will practice the skills in group and in real-life situations.

*This treatment may not be available at every VHA point of care. Please check with your VA provider.

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