DBT for Teens


dbt 2Dialectical Behavior Therapy originally was created in order to treat women who were self-injuring, suicidal, and exhibited symptoms of the mental health issue, Borderline Personality Disorder. Since the start, however, DBT has been adapted not just for women but for others such as teens and their family members. The main goal of the DBT treatment is to be able to help teens build good skills that are needed to envision and create a life that’s meaningful and feels like it is worth living. This type of therapy has become very effective in treating teens that often experience the following:

  • Suicide thoughts and/or actions
  • Self-injury behavior like scratching or cutting
  • Risky behaviors like substance abuse or not going to school.
  • Trouble with regulating their emotions that include extreme mood swings, anger, and depression
  • Intense and frequent conflicts with adults, family members, and adults
  • Not sure of who there are or what their direction in life is

DBT Goals for Teens

In the very important first phase of DBT treatment it works with teens and their parents to try and target all of the behavior-oriented goals listed here:

  • Eliminate any life-threatening and/or self-injury behaviors
  • Increase their commitment to therapy and its process
  • Decrease behavior that is causing other issues with their family, peers, and/or school
  • Increase their coping skills like learning how to deal with conflict, learn how to cope with emotions that are painful, and to improve their self-care

What Does Treatment Through DBT Consist Of?

Evaluating The Teen and Parents

Both the teen and parents will sit down with a DBT therapist and will be involved with a very comprehensive evaluation. This is a diagnostic evaluation that will consist of some additional components in order to determine if a DBT program will be the right fit for the teen. Teens ages 13 to 17 are referred to DBT programs. However, there can be some exceptions.

This evaluation is then followed up with a feedback session with the parents and teen and then go over treatment recommendations. If DBT doesn’t seem to be the right therapy for the teen other treatment will be suggested to the parents.

Treatment Program

Most DBT programs will include the components listed below:

Individual Weekly Therapy – Every teen in a DBT program will work individually with their therapist who will be an active member of a DBT team. Expert therapists will tailor the therapy for each individual and will identify and keep the focus on the major problems that will be addressed for each teen and their parents. The therapist will help keep the teen motivated in the DBT program and help them to develop and use their coping and problem-solving skills they are taught in the program.

Weekly Skills Group Therapy – Once a week both the teen and parents will participate in a weekly group therapy session. Here they will learn DBT skills in a group setting along with other teens and family members. This type of therapy is more like a classroom environment than it is to a traditional type of group therapy. Those participating will be given handouts, weekly homework assignments and will participate in weekly activities together.

DBT Skills Taught

  • Mindfulness – This teaches both teens and parents to become a lot more aware of their thoughts, impulses, behavior, and their emotions
  • Distress Tolerance – This helps parents and teens to learn different ways for them to get through tough times without making decisions that are impulsive and ones they may end up regretting
  • Emotional Regulation – This is a skill that helps teens and parents learn different behavioral and cognitive techniques that will reduce their vulnerability and in turn enhancing their abilities to be able to cope with emotions that may be overwhelming
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness – This is one of those skills that will help parents and teens to learn how to maintain healthier relationships, manage any conflict, and to maintain their self-respect
  • Walking Middle Path – This will help the teens along with their parents to learn how to live a far more balanced life and how they can avoid emotional and behavior extremes that often lead to a lot of stress

Parents will also learn how to understand and how dbt 3to respond to the behavior of their teens. They are encouraged to use their new skills in the home and to also get support from each other inside of a DBT framework. Including parents in the teens, treatment helps the parents to become more effective as parents and they learn to become their teens’ coach.

Coaching Via Phone

Another part of DBT treatment is phone coaching. This is a tool the therapist uses to help teens become a lot more comfortable with DBT and more skilled at using and adapting their new coping skills and how to respond to what’s going on in the real world. Teens will be encouraged to call their therapist whenever they have negative urges to engage in behaviors that are negative ones and they are unsure of what they should do. The therapists’ role here is to help them problem solve and to identify the DBT coping skills they’ve learned.

Other Components Found in DBT Programs

There are sometimes other components offered in DBT programs that help teens and their parents to continue using their skills and making them more effective. A sample program would be a teen and parent graduate group. This most often is optional for those who are interested in participating. The goals of these graduate groups are:

  • The ability to maintain behavior gains by reinforcing as well as supporting the progress they’ve made from their first phase of treatment
  • Helping parents and teens to strengthen their behavior skills in different relationships and different social settings
  • Help the teens and parents to increase their behavior skills and to improve their quality of life

If you have a teen that tends to have behavior problems or other issues that could harm them, it’s important to find a therapist and a program that will help them overcome these problems. There are many therapists that offer DBT programs and it could be worth the time and effort to find one that fits you and your teens’ needs.


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