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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapy. DBT stems from and includes many components of the cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach. It was developed by Marsha M. Linehan in the late 1980s, as a means to more effectively treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). DBT combines standard CBT techniques for emotional regulation and reality testing with concepts derived from Buddhist meditative practice such as awareness, mindfulness, and attentiveness to current situations and emotional experiences to focus on the psychosocial aspect of treatment. Since its inception, dialectical behavior therapy has been and remains the gold standard method of treatment for individuals diagnosed with BPD. Its efficacy has since expanded to other ailments. The purpose of DBT is to teach individuals a variety of adaptive coping skills and effective problem-solving strategies, so they are better able to manage painful emotions and decrease conflict in relationships. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recognizes DBT as an effective method of treatment for a wide range of other mental health disorders, including, but not limited to the following:

Research indicates that DBT can be effective regardless of a person’s gender identity, sexual orientation, age, and ethnicity/ race. Depending on one’s needs, dialectical behavior therapy can be a treatment method that is appropriate for individuals spanning across a wide age-range, from children as young as six years old to the most senior members of the geriatric community.


There is even an adapted version of standard DBT, known as DBT for children (DBT-C) that specifically caters to the unique needs of children and preadolescents. DBT for children was developed to “address treatment needs of pre-adolescent children with severe emotional dysregulation and corresponding behavioral discontrol.” 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 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.” DBT-C relies on the same principals, theoretical model, and therapeutic strategies of standard DBT.

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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