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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapy approach. It was developed in the late 1980s by Marsha M. Linehan, who was at the time a psychology/ suicide researcher at the University of Washington, as a means to help better treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). It is founded on the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), utilizing standard CBT techniques for emotional regulation and reality testing, and combines concepts derived from Buddhist meditative practice such as awareness, mindfulness, and attentiveness to current situations and emotional experiences to encourage acceptance. 

DBT continues to be used to treat individuals with BDP and has also been rendered an effective method of treatment for many other mental health conditions. It is particularly helpful in treating issues related to emotional dysregulation, a highly common phenomenon among teenagers. Emotional dysregulation is a term used within the mental health field to denote irrational, poorly modulated emotional responses. Dialectical behavior therapy focuses on teaching four behavioral skill modules, which are core mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotion regulation. Through DBT a teen engages in accepting his or her feelings while simultaneously using his or her thoughts to shift 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.

DBT Format

Dialectical behavior therapy is conducted in three different therapeutic settings, each with distinct goals. DBT includes weekly individual therapy sessions, weekly DBT skills training group 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. Phone coaching allows a young person twenty-four-hour access to support between sessions, should a crisis arise. Dialectical behavioral therapy is designed to help teenagers learn to regulate their emotions and behaviors. 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. 

DBT Skills Training Group Therapy Sessions

Weekly DBT skills training group sessions are conducted by a qualified mental health professional who will follow the lessons provided in the DBT curriculum that teaches the DBT skills as well as provides relevant exercises for participants to practice the skills learned. These sessions are focused on enhancing the capabilities of each participant by teaching behavioral skills. In DBT skills training group sessions, adolescents learn and practice implementing DBT skills used to help communication, regulate emotions, improve relationships, enhance moods, and practice effective problem-solving skills. The DBT skills group training sessions focus on skills in the following four key areas, 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 structure of the DBT skills group training therapy sessions enable teenagers to learn important behavioral skills from peers as well as encourage new, healthy ways of interacting with others.

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.