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The Importance of Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Teen Mental Health

By July 21, 2023Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a multidimensional and comprehensive therapeutic approach that combines techniques from western cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psycho-educational modules, and eastern mindfulness-based practices to foster the systematic learning of new emotional coping skills. It was initially developed by Marsha M. Linehan in the late 1980s, and was specifically geared to treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). DBT remains the gold standard method of treatment for individuals diagnosed with BPD, and has since been recognized an effective method of treatment for many other mental health conditions. Preliminary research has concluded that DBT can be effective in “treating adolescents, likely because many adolescents struggle with symptoms that mirror those found with borderline personality disorder, including non-suicidal self-injury, suicide attempts, dichotomous thinking, impulsive behaviors, labile moods, and unstable interpersonal relationships.” This therapeutic modality is particularly helpful in treating issues related to emotional dysregulation, something many teenagers experience. Emotional dysregulation is a term used within the mental health field to denote irrational, poorly modulated emotional responses. DBT emphasizes the psychosocial aspect of treatment.

DBT is a multifaceted approach that is comprised of weekly individual psychotherapy sessions, weekly group DBT skills training sessions, and as-needed phone coaching to provide additional support between weekly individual and group sessions. Each therapeutic setting has its own distinct structure and goals. Dialectical behavior therapy encourages teens to take an active role in the treatment process. The weekly group DBT skills training sessions focus on providing therapeutic skills in four areas, known as the four modules, that make up the pillars of this therapeutic modality. They include the following, provided by Behavioral Tech:

  • Core mindfulness: The practice of remaining fully present in the moment at any given time.
  • Distress tolerance: Learning to increase one’s ability to tolerate pain in challenging situations rather than attempting to escape or avoid experiencing negative emotions.
  • Interpersonal effectiveness: Increasing one’s self-awareness and authentically advocating for one’s own wants and needs in a relationship in a way that is both self-respecting and non-damaging.
  • Emotion regulation: Decreasing emotional impulsivity by learning skills to help manage and shift intense emotion without reacting instinctively to them.

Individual therapy sessions provide one-on-one attention to help the young person go over skills learned in the group DBT skills training sessions. It also enables a teen to further explore and dissect how the processes of implementing the skills has been effective throughout the week as well as identify areas that may need further attention. The DBT process is heavily influenced by the philosophical perspective of dialectics, or the balancing of opposites. DBT encourages an inclusive worldview as it aims to help teens learn to identify ways to hold two seemingly opposite perspectives simultaneously. Dialectical behavior therapy teaches applicable social and emotional skills, healthy coping mechanisms, and useful mindfulness techniques that enable an adolescent to cope with stress effectively, live in the moment, regulate emotions, and improve relationships with others.

For Information and Support 

Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times.

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs 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 a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.


We are available to answer any questions you may have regarding mental health treatment and our residential program, anytime. Contact us today using the form to the right.

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