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Teenagers are often treated like adults and expected to behave like adults but do not have the brain maturity to enable them to do so. The pre-frontal cortex of the brain is not yet fully formed until a person reaches age twenty-five, at the earliest. This area of the brain reins rational thought, impulse control, executive planning, problem-solving, decision-making, and more. Since the prefrontal cortex of teenagers is underdeveloped, teens innately rely on the amygdala. The amygdala is the area of the brain that governs one’s emotions, impulsivity, emotional behavior, and motivation responsible for emotions. Hence, teenagers are inherently programmed to make decisions and react from an emotional standpoint, not a rational standpoint. This can make navigating all the pressures of adolescence incredibly difficult and learning effective coping mechanisms and using interpersonal skills can help to alleviate some of the challenges. 

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is 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 principles 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.). Further, it is helpful in treating issues related to emotional dysregulation, something many teenagers experiences. Emotional dysregulation is a term used within the mental health field to denote irrational, poorly modulated emotional responses. 

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. Phone coaching allows a young person twenty-four-hour access to support between sessions, should a 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 DBT a teen will learn an array of mindfulness-based skills to effectively understand and navigate his or her emotions. This allows for healthier relationships and improves interpersonal skills.

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.