Dialectical Behavioral Therapy for Teens–How It Works

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a therapy designed for teens and adults who struggle with a myriad of mental health and trauma-related issues. Some of the practices within DBT may also work well for children. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is a great therapeutic approach for those who need help regulating emotions, developing good coping strategies, and feeling better about choices in different circumstances.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy History 

Dr. Marsha Linehan created DBT as a form of therapy for borderline personality disorder (BPD), particularly women with suicidal risk who had BPD. According to The Mental Health Clinician, “Dialectical behavioral therapy based on cognitive-behavioral principles and is currently the only empirically supported treatment for BDP.” Dialectical behavioral therapy was tried and tested over several years to treat many other mental health disorders. DBT was proven successful in most substance use disorders, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, eating disorders, and more.

A trained clinician leads dialectical behavioral therapy to help the client with many problems. Some of the problems a patient may seek DBT for include:

  • Unstable sense of self
  • Chaotic relationships
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Impulsivity
  • Self-injurious behaviors
  • Anxiety and depression

DBT can help the client work toward common emotional regulatory goals using practices such as mindfulness, distress tolerance, stress coping mechanisms, self-awareness, and more.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Practices

According to Psychiatry MMC, dialectical behavioral therapy uses five core skill groups, or functions of treatment, that are accessed and worked through with a therapist.

#1: Enhancing Capabilities 

This function of DBT involves improving life skills like regulating emotion, paying attention and experiencing the present moment, effectively navigating interpersonal situations, tolerating distress, and surviving crises without making the situation worse. These combined emotion regulation skills, mindfulness skills, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance skills make up the four pillars of enhancing a client’s capabilities in everyday life.

#2: Generalizing Capabilities 

This function of DBT involves the practice of the above four main skills in the client’s day-to-day life. As a client isn’t going to be a professional at implementing these skills right away, measurable little goals and homework that follows the DBT structure help both client and therapist see the client’s progress in real life.

#3: Improving Motivation and Reducing Dysfunctional Behaviors

This function of DBT necessitates the therapist consistently monitoring the improvement in the client. The therapist and client will have regular one-on-one sessions to discuss how things are going. The therapist will also monitor emotional regulation skills, mindfulness skills, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance skills. Some therapists might record all the times the patient uses DBT to improve or escalate situations in their everyday life or how they used DBT to control or improve their thinking. It often involves the client keeping a record of these things throughout the week, allowing them to see their progress tangibly.

#4: Enhancing and Maintaining Therapist Capabilities and Motivation

This function of DBT is in place to help remind therapists to keep their clients motivated. For example, some clients may display and engage in risky behaviors that would hinder DBT’s progress. Helping the client navigate away from some of these problematic and dangerous behaviors will help the client see further improvement in their DBT skills. To help meet this standard of improvement, a therapist will have a team meeting at least once a week to review a client’s case and progress. From there, the therapist will assess what to do next. Doing this gives the client the knowledge and feeling of being supported and heard through their therapy.

#5: Structuring the Environment 

This last function helps the therapist confirm and reinforce healthy behaviors for the client rather than maladaptive behaviors. It helps by strengthening the environment the client is treated in and lives in, allowing them to change environmental concerns. It might mean changing the company the client keeps, especially in situations involving substance abuse. It can also mean changing a living situation.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy in Teens

Teens and older children benefit from dialectical behavioral therapy just as much as adults. For teens, DBT is vital for the development of coping mechanisms and to help teens pause to analyze their thinking before acting. For teens who have experienced trauma, abuse, or emotional scars, DBT can help to develop healthy habits and learn to react to new stressors in a healthy, deescalated way.

DBT can give teens strategies for success as they grow. Teens are still children, though children who are closer to becoming adults. They need guidance and critical thinking skills, and emotional skills to develop them into the most successful adult they can be. DBT can help.

Dialectical behavioral therapy is great for teens, especially teen girls who have experienced trauma, hardship, or need extra emotional support. If your teen girl needs some help and support, call Havenwood Academy today. At Havenwood Academy, our professional and highly experienced staff will help guide your child through their emotional turmoil and learn positive habits to set them up for their future. Among our many offered therapies, dialectical behavioral therapy is practiced at Havenwood Academy and offered to all girls who enroll in our program. On top of DBT, we offer individual and group therapy to help your teen talk through her emotions and learn to cope with the changes they face. We can help your teen daughter find strategies for success in her schooling, emotional regulation, mindfulness, distress response, and more. If your daughter could benefit from our services, don’t wait; call us today at (435) 586-2500 for more information about our beautiful facilities. 


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