DBT for Depression in Seniors


depression 2DBT is becoming very widespread and the research still suggests that it can be a very effective treatment for a wide range of mental health issues. There are many therapists, different treatment providers and even individuals that continue to look into DBT in order to be able to help with severe and debilitating behavioral and emotional issues. The great research that has been done gives hope for those suffering from depression, especially when it’s seniors that are struggling with depression.

In the Beginning

Dialectical Behavior Therapy was created by Dr. Marsha Linehan who worked with CBT discovered that CBT wasn’t helping as much with clients who were struggling with self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Over time through her careful scrutiny, she came to realize that CBT seemed to fall short. Because of this, she started to adapt her own work so she could create a treatment that would help her clients to change their problem behaviors and to and give them tools to accept and validate themselves. This helped her clients to reduce their anger and improved their treatment retention. The result of this change in her treatments led to DBT.

DBT Today

Even though DBT is somewhat different from CBT it is still based on cognitive behavior and acceptance-based kind of therapy that helps many different mental health issues including depression. This type of therapy is aimed at trying to reduce any high-risk and behaviors that interfere with treatment. The main focus of DBT is about teaching individuals to:

  • Be able to control extreme emotions and to learn to reduce their negative behavior that comes with these emotions
  • Individuals learn to trust their emotions, activities, and thoughts

These goals can be accomplished with multiple treatment modalities that include skills training, crisis coaching, individual therapy, structuring their environment and consulting teams for all providers of DBT.

DBT Study for Depression in Seniors

A study from 2002 was published in the “American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry”, that covered skills groups and crisis coaching along with medication showed that there was a decrease in depression in seniors. It showed that 71% of those studied who participated in a DBT treatment program ended up less depressed by the end of this study. This was compared to the 47% of those who didn’t participate in DBT treatment.

Implementation of DBT in the study had focused on two of the five different treatment modalities. The skills group and the coaching in crisis. The main goals of both of these are to try and teach people skills in order to manage emotions and different problems in their lives. It also helps to ensure that they can also learn to utilize these skills even in a time of crisis.

A big part of DBT treatment is devoted to teaching clients these important skills. These skills are designed to help people to control their behaviors and emotions and can be put into four different categories:

  1. Clients are taught skills that will help increase interpersonal effectiveness especially in situations of conflict.
  2. They are taught skills that will help them to control and regulate emotions that may be extremely painful.
  3. They learn skills that help them to be able to tolerate emotional distress.
  4. Finally, they are taught mindfulness skills. These skills are designed to help people to focus their attention and then to experience their emotions.

The seniors in each group are taught certain skills and are encouraged to practice them and then to do homework for individuals to practice all week. Then members review the homework the following week at their next meeting.

Overall Aim is to Enhance Skills

Teaching DBT to people is to enhance their skills generalization in their daily life. Those who participate learn a variety of skills in daily life. They learn these skills in group sessions in order to help people to resolve any crisis that might come up in their lives and how to react in a more functional way.

Coaching in Crisis

The coaching in crisis is a very important part of depression 3DBT treatment and works well with those suffering from depression. The idea is that clients will often need some help in trying to apply behavior skills they’ve learned in order to help with the problems that pop up in their daily lives. Clients are able to have access to their therapist by phone so that they can help them to focus on applying their skills.

Over some time, the frequency and the duration of these crisis interventions will become less and less because of the therapist responding consistently with their client by using the DBT techniques and the client learns to use their new skills without help from the therapist.

Late-Life Depression

Depression in seniors or late-life depression can be a very serious mental health issue that often can contribute to other physical health issues in seniors. The coping skills that are taught through DBT has shown that it can be a major element in improving the symptoms found in the depression of seniors.

The conclusion of this study suggests that DBT treatment and the skills taught along with phone crisis coaching offers a promise of effective help for depression in seniors so that they can live a happier and longer life.


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