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Typical teenage years, including teen’s residing in Los Angeles, California, are filled with exponential physical, emotional, and mental growth, which can be confusing, difficult to manage and at times seemingly impossible to navigate. Maturing through adolescence in and of itself can be physiologically arduous, and research indicates it also happens to be the time that dormant mental health ailments may begin to manifest. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapy treatment that was originally developed by Marsha M. Linehan, in the late 1980s. DBT is based on the cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach that relies on talk therapy and emphasizes the psychosocial aspects of treatment. It utilizes four main strategies for teaching individuals skills that help with effectively changing their behaviors, which include: 

  1. Core Mindfulness: the practice of remaining present and fully 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 through learning to effectively advocate for one’s own wants and/ or needs by saying no and/ or expressing one’s desires while maintaining self-respect and without feeling that relationships will be compromised 
  4. Emotion Regulation: learning how to shift and/ or change unwanted emotions

Currently, the DBT approach is often integrated into treatment plans for teenagers in LA struggling with an array of mental health ailments, some of which include the following examples as provided by the Child Mind Institute

  • Drugs and/ or alcohol abuse 
  • Substance use disorder
  • Anxiety/ generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Impulsive and/ or disruptive behaviors
  • Attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Self-injuring behaviors
  • Depression/ major depressive disorder (including treatment-resistant major depression and/ or chronic depression)
  • Suicidal behaviors
  • Poor coping skills
  • Anger outbursts
  • Eating disorder behaviors/ bulimia/ binge-eating disorder/ anorexia 
  • Family and/ or peer conflict
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Dialectical behavior therapy can help teach teenagers healthy coping mechanisms and useful techniques for managing stress, regulating emotions, and improving relationships with others. 

How Does It Work? 

DBT is conducted in three therapeutic settings: individual therapy sessions, group DBT skills training sessions, and phone crisis coaching between sessions (if needed). Weekly individual therapy sessions provide a teen and his or her clinician with the opportunity to co-create behavior plans that incorporate long and short-term goals. One-on-one therapy also helps a teen learn skills to improve self-worth, establish self-compassion, acceptance and a positive self-identity. Weekly DBT group skills sessions are focused on enhancing the capabilities of each participant by teaching behavioral skills. In DBT group skills 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 structure of group therapy sessions enable an individual to learn important behavioral skills from peers as well as encourage new, healthy ways of interacting with others. Coaching is a component of DBT that provides a teen with access to his or her clinician between individual and group therapy sessions. A teenager can call his or her clinician to receive support and guidance for coping with challenging in-the-moment situations.


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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