Dialectical Behavioral Therapy for Teens
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a type of psychotherapy that is commonly used to help treat people suffering from many different mental illnesses and behavioral issues.
It is most helpful for those who have trouble controlling their thoughts and emotions. DBT has successfully helped treat depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and addiction, among other things. It is not only used to help adults but teens and adolescents as well.
How does DBT Work?
- Collaboration: requires constant interaction between the teen and their doctors, staff members at the treatment facility, and their families
- Support-oriented: helps the teen to identify their strengths and build on them, instead of focusing on their weaknesses
- Cognitive-based: focuses on the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the teen. Once the thoughts are identified they can begin to learn skills to change them or deal with them in healthier ways
- Builds four major skills: mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation
Mindfulness is being aware of yourself including your thoughts, emotions, body sensations, and your surroundings in the present moment, and accepting whatever circumstances you’re in. Learning to be more mindful can help a teen to notice their thoughts and feelings without judging themselves.
Distress Tolerance is helpful in moments of crisis, where mindfulness is not. Distress tolerance provides teens with ways to get through hard times without turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Interpersonal Effectiveness is important because intense emotions can make it hard to relate to others. Teens suffering from mental illnesses need to learn to know how they feel and what they want so they can build healthy connections and relationships with others.
Emotion Regulation teaches teens to manage their emotions and not let them get out of control. Dealing with primary emotions as soon as they develop will prevent that one emotion from turning into ten others which will then influence the teen’s behavior.
Which Illnesses can Benefit from DBT?
- Borderline personality disorder
- Depression/suicidal thoughts
- Drug and alcohol addiction
- Attention deficit disorder
- Eating disorders
Because the focus of DBT is to help the teen learn to cope with difficult emotions, it can be beneficial for a wide range of illnesses. Most mental illnesses involve having thoughts, feelings, or emotions which then lead to negative behavior. The negative or unhealthy behaviors cannot be stopped unless the thoughts are stopped first. With DBT, teens are taught to identify and name those thoughts, and how to cope with them in healthier ways.
DBT is considered a sub-type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). While there is over-lap between them, they are two different types of therapy. Both involve talk therapy, and both can be used to treat many of the same types of issues. DBT however, is slightly more focused on cognition (thoughts, feelings, emotions). The main goal is to teach patients to better manage their thoughts and interpersonal relationship, putting less emphasis on managing the behaviors themselves. DBT was originally developed as a treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), so while it can be used to treat many other disorders, some of its main focuses are on the thoughts and feelings someone with BPD might be experiencing, and how to manage them.
If your teen is in emotional distress and is having trouble finding coping mechanisms, DBT may be a good fit for them. Many of the core teachings of DBT are simple and can be helpful to all of us, so you may try implementing some of them at home. Talk to your teen’s mental healthcare professionals to see if they would recommend DBT. CBT may also be worth looking into, as it can help an even broader scope of illnesses.
For Information and Support
Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact an individual for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.
Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769.
- healthline.comDialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Raypole, Crystal. Legg, Timothy J. January 25, 2019.
- childmind.orgDialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Teens and Young Adults. Emanuele, Jill. 2019.