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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapeutic approach that is based off of 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. In the late 1980, Psychologist Marsha Linehan developed DBT to help treat individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD). 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.” Since its inception, dialectical behavior therapy has not only become and continues to be the gold standard for treating individuals with BPD but has also become known as an effective treatment method for other mental health disorders (e.g., depression, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, bipolar disorder, substance use disorder, etc.). DBT is also 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 places primary emphasis on the psychosocial aspect of treatment. 

DBT Basics

DBT is a multifaceted approach that is comprised of weekly individual psychotherapy sessions, weekly group skills 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 adolescents to take an active role in the treatment process. The DBT group skills 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 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 entire DBT program typically lasts about six months long, as six weeks are allocated to focusing on each of the four DBT skills modules. Every adolescent is unique and will respond distinctly to the array of therapeutic modalities available. While DBT can be highly effective for some teenagers, it would be inaccurate to claim that DBT is universally effective for all adolescents, as some young people may not be as receptive to this form of therapy as others. 

Disclaimer: 

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.