What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy and How Does it Help Teens?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a style of therapy that is influenced by the idea of the balancing of opposites (dialectics). The treatment aims to help the individual hold two seemingly opposing viewpoints on a problem in their mind at once. This promotes balance and avoidance of seeing everything as either black or white. At the heart of DBT is the dialectic that someone can both accept themselves and want to change.

How Can Dialectical Behavior Therapy Help a Troubled Teen?

DBT is a type of therapy that provides teens and young adults with skills to help them cope with painful emotions and lessen conflicts in interpersonal relationships.

DBT consists of skills in the following four areas : .

  • Mindfulness – Teaches teens how to be present in the moment, without judgment.
  • Distress Tolerance Crisis skills that help to delay harmful behaviors or actions. Skills aim to help increase a teen’s ability to tolerate negative emotions, as opposed to trying to escape from them.
  • Emotion Regulation – Provides teens with education on the purpose of emotions as well as skills on how to name/identify, manage and change unwanted emotions.
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness – Gives teens techniques to get their needs met in relationships without sacrificing the relationship or their self-respect. Overall aims to give teens skills to improve relationships and decrease conflict.

When Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy Used?

A type of cognitive-behavioral treatment, DBT was established during the 1980s by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. to treat people suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD). (Dr. Linehan founded The Linehan Institute , a non-profit organization which aims to advance mental health by supporting compassionate, scientifically-based treatments.) Teens diagnosed with BPD experience extremely intense emotions that they are unable to manage, especially when they are interacting with family members, friends, or romantic partners.

Other Reasons to Use Dialectical Behavior Therapy

DBT has been found to be helpful in treating a wide range of mental health concerns, including depression and anxiety, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and actions, substance use, eating disorders, mood disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. DBT treatment is typically offered as a combination of individual therapy and group sessions.

Individual Dialectical Behavior Therapy Sessions

During an individual therapy session, the therapist will work with the teen and family to ensure the teen is safe and teach skills to help the teen decrease and stop engaging in harmful behaviors. The focus of the sessions will be to help the teen increase willingness, apply DBT skills to daily life, and improve the overall quality of life.

Group Dialectical Behavior Therapy Sessions

Group sessions are conducted by a trained DBT therapist. Groups typically have 8-12 members and last anywhere from 1-3 hours. Groups meet anywhere from once to three times per week. Teens can expect to engage in safety planning, learning and practicing skills, and completing mindfulness exercises.

What to Look for in a DBT Therapist

If you think your teen or young adult could be helped by DBT, you need to seek out a therapist who has been trained in this kind of therapy. It’s also important to find a therapist with whom your teen feels comfortable working. Doorways specializes in DBT and will focus on building an alliance with your teen to help them lead a happier life. Set up an appointment for a consultation with us today.


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