Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) has been described as a disorder of emotional
regulation. A person with this disorder often experiences very intense emotions and has
difficulty regulating them. STEPPS (Systems Training for Emotional Predictability and
Problem Solving) is a manual-guided teaching program. In the STEPPS manual, BPD is
often referred to as Emotional Intensity Disorder (EID). Participants learn about the
behaviors and feelings that define BPD/EID, and also learn a variety of emotion
management and behavioral skills to help manage the disorder.
Participants learn a new “language” to use in thinking about their disorder, and to
communicate about the disorder with others in their “system” - the people with whom
they share information about their disorder and what they are learning in the program.
These might be health care professionals, family members and significant others, and/or
close friends. We refer to those people as a “reinforcement team.” As part of the
STEPPS program, there is at least one education session for those identified as
reinforcement team members.
STEPPS focuses on the present, rather than the past. The past cannot be changed, but
the skills learned in this program can help make the present and the future a more positive
experience. Participants work on changing the way they think about themselves, the
world, and other people. They also work on specific lifestyle behaviors such as eating,
sleep patterns, exercise, leisure activities, physical health, and relationships.
Attending a STEPPS group is similar to attending a class (although usually taught in a
group setting, the materials can also be used in individual therapy if someone cannot
attend a group). Typically, a treatment group meets once a week for two hours, for 20
weeks. The group leader(s) are the teachers and the group members the students.
Members receive an outline of the lesson each week and workbook materials for each
session, including a homework assignment to complete before the next meeting. After the
first few lessons, group members are encouraged to help with some of the teaching
activities, if they are comfortable doing this.
Besides the written materials, the lessons also use songs, poetry, art activities, and
relaxation exercises. If a member has a special talent for writing poems or creating
artwork, they may enjoy sharing them with the group when it fits into the material being
discussed. The STEPPS manual contains poems and pictures contributed by previous
If currently working with an individual therapist, group members are encouraged to take
their STEPPS materials to their individual therapy sessions and to ask their therapist to
help reinforce what they are learning in the STEPPS program.
After completing the 20 week program, participants have several choices. Some people
decide to repeat the STEPPS program. Others enter a follow-up program called
STAIRWAYS™, which meets twice a month for one year, and helps participants work
on additional skills. For more on STAIRWAYS, click