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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is evidence-based psychotherapy. DBT stems from and includes many components of the cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) approach. DBT differs from CBT in that dialectical behavior therapy prioritizes focusing on the psychosocial aspect of therapy. It was developed by Marsha M. Linehan in the late 1980s, intended to be used as a means to treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). It has since been recognized as an effective method of treatment for many other mental health conditions (e.g., depression, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorder, etc.). Further, it is helpful in treating issues related to emotional dysregulation. Emotional dysregulation is a term used within the mental health field to denote irrational, poorly modulated emotional responses. DBT focuses on teaching four behavioral skill modules: core mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotion regulation. DBT is comprised of different components including weekly group therapy, also known as DBT skills group sessions, weekly individual psychotherapy sessions, and as-needed phone coaching. While standard DBT may be effective for some young people, the adapted version known as DBT for children (DBT-C) is a unique and effective approach for children and preadolescents.


According to Behavioral Tech, DBT for children was developed to “address treatment needs of pre-adolescent children with severe emotional dysregulation and corresponding behavioral discontrol.” DBT-C relies on the same principles, theoretical model, and therapeutic strategies of standard DBT. However, the DBT-C curriculum is re-framed in a way that considers and accommodates the developmental and cognitive levels of pre-adolescent children and provides age-appropriate services. DBT-C is comprised of three main categories, which are subdivided into the following subcategories, provided by Behavioral Tech

  1. Decrease risk of psychopathology in the future
    1. Life-threatening behaviors of a child
    2. Therapy-destroying behaviors of a child
    3. Therapy-interfering behaviors of a child
    4. Parental emotion regulation
    5. Effective parenting techniques
  2. Target parent-child relationship
    1. Improve parent-child relationship
  3. Target child’s presenting problems
    1. Risky, unsafe, and aggressive behaviors
    2. Quality-of-life-interfering problems
    3. Skills training
    4. Therapy-interfering behaviors of a child

As is articulated in Behavioral Tech, the goal of DBT-C is to eliminate the “harmful transaction between a child and an environment and replace it with an adaptive pattern of responding to ameliorate presenting problems, as well as to reduce the risk of associated psychopathology in the future.” Through DBT-C a child will learn a variety of adaptive coping skills and effective problem-solving strategies. DBT for children and preadolescents relies on multiple modes of treatment including individual therapy, skills training, working directly with parents, and as-needed 24-hour phone coaching to provide additional support to children and their families.

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment. 

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