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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapy. 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 is founded on the principals of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and blends Eastern mindfulness techniques (e.g., awareness, mindfulness and attentiveness to current situations and emotional experiences) to encourage acceptance and change. DBT emphasizes the psychosocial aspect of treatment. In addition to DBT being recognized as the gold standard method of treatment for BPD it has also become known as an effective treatment method for other mental health conditions (e.g., bulimia, binge-eating disorder, substance use disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, etc.). There are many DBT providers located in Southern California that specialize in treating teenagers. Should a teenager undergo DBT treatment Los Angeles, CA, he or she will receive the same base DBT treatment as is received by an individual elsewhere. The short answer as to whether DBT can work for teens is yes, sometimes it can. However, there are countless factors that must be considered which make it is impossible to provide a definitive answer regarding the universal efficacy of DBT for teenagers. Each teen is unique with nuanced needs and distinct preferences.

DBT and Teens

DBT is primarily used with young people who struggle with emotional dysregulation, also known as severe emotional instability (e.g., suicidal thoughts, self-harming behaviors, etc.). It is a rigidly structured therapeutic modality. Dialectical behavior therapy is conducted in three different therapeutic settings, each with distinct goals. DBT includes weekly individual therapy sessions, weekly group DBT skills sessions, and phone coaching (between sessions) when needed. The individual therapy sessions provide one-on-one support where a teen can review challenging situations and go over the lessons learned in the group skills sessions. The phone coaching allows a young person twenty-four-hour access to support between sessions, should crisis arise. The DBT group skills sessions focus on the following four skill modules, provided by Behavioral Tech:

  1. Core Mindfulness: the practice of remaining fully present in the moment at any given time.
  2. Distress Tolerance: learning to tolerate pain in challenging situations, without changing it or escalating it.
  3. 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.
  4. Emotion Regulation: decreasing emotional impulsivity, learning to manage and shift intense, problematic emotions.

The entire DBT program typically lasts about six months long, as six weeks are allocated to focusing on each of the four DBT skills modules. Dialectical behavioral therapy is designed to help young people learn to regulate their emotions and behaviors. Through dialectical behavior therapy an adolescent engages in accepting his or her feelings while simultaneously using his or her thoughts to change negative feelings. This in turn, will teach teens a myriad of tools and techniques to understand their emotions as well as various ways to adjust their emotions resulting in the reduction of negative and/ or self-harming behaviors.


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 as a means to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.

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