Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: Teens and Young Adults

June 6, 2024

Discover the power of dialectical behavior therapy for teens and young adults. Unlock emotional wellness and build a brighter future.

Understanding Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a therapeutic approach that was originally developed to treat individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD). However, it has proven to be highly effective for a wide range of mental health concerns, including those faced by teens and young adults.

What is DBT?

DBT is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that combines elements of mindfulness, acceptance, and behavior change strategies. It was developed by psychologist Marsha M. Linehan in the late 1980s. DBT aims to help individuals develop skills to manage intense emotions, improve relationships, and cope with distressing situations.

DBT is based on the idea that individuals experience difficulties in regulating their emotions and maintaining stable relationships due to a combination of biological factors and an invalidating environment. The therapy focuses on helping individuals build resilience, increase self-awareness, and develop effective coping strategies.

Core Principles of DBT

DBT is guided by several core principles that form the foundation of the therapy:

  1. Dialectics: DBT emphasizes the acceptance of two seemingly contradictory ideas - acceptance and change. It encourages individuals to accept themselves as they are while also working towards positive change.
  2. Mindfulness: Mindfulness is an essential component of DBT. It involves being fully present in the current moment, observing thoughts and emotions without judgment. Mindfulness practices help individuals develop awareness and regulate their emotions effectively.
  3. Validation: DBT recognizes the importance of validating individuals' experiences and emotions. Validation helps create a safe and supportive therapeutic environment, promoting trust and collaboration between the therapist and the individual.
  4. Behavioral Change: DBT incorporates behavioral strategies to bring about positive changes. It focuses on identifying and modifying problematic behaviors while teaching new skills to replace them.
  5. Individual and Group Therapy: DBT includes both individual therapy and group skills training. Individual therapy provides personalized support and guidance, while group skills training helps individuals learn and practice new coping skills in a supportive peer environment.

By understanding the fundamentals of DBT, individuals can gain insight into the therapeutic approach's principles and how it can be applied to address the unique challenges faced by teens and young adults. In the following sections, we will explore the applicability of DBT for this age group, the components of DBT, the benefits it offers, and real-life success stories.

Applicability of DBT for Teens and Young Adults

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) has shown to be particularly effective for teens and young adults who are grappling with various emotional and behavioral challenges. This therapeutic approach has been specifically designed to address their unique needs and provide them with the necessary tools to navigate the complexities of adolescence and early adulthood.

Why DBT is Effective for Teens and Young Adults

DBT is highly effective for teens and young adults due to several key factors. Firstly, this therapy approach acknowledges and validates the emotional experiences and struggles that individuals in this age group often face. It recognizes that the transition from childhood to adulthood can be overwhelming and that emotional dysregulation is a common occurrence during this period.

Moreover, DBT helps teens and young adults develop crucial skills for emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. These skills are vital for navigating relationships, managing stress, and making healthy decisions as they navigate the challenges of adolescence and young adulthood.

DBT also emphasizes the importance of a supportive therapeutic relationship between the individual and the therapist. This collaborative relationship fosters trust, empathy, and understanding, creating a safe space for teens and young adults to explore their emotions and experiences.

Common Issues Addressed by DBT

DBT addresses a range of issues commonly experienced by teens and young adults. Some of the common challenges that DBT can help address include:

  • Emotional Dysregulation: Teens and young adults often struggle with intense and fluctuating emotions. DBT equips them with strategies to regulate their emotions effectively and develop a greater sense of emotional stability.
  • Self-Harm and Suicidal Behaviors: DBT has proven to be effective in reducing self-harming behaviors and suicidal ideation among teens and young adults by teaching them alternative coping mechanisms and providing them with a supportive environment.
  • Impulsive Behaviors: Many young individuals engage in impulsive behaviors that can have negative consequences. DBT helps them develop skills to manage impulsivity, make thoughtful decisions, and engage in healthier behaviors.
  • Interpersonal Difficulties: Building and maintaining healthy relationships can be challenging for teens and young adults. DBT focuses on improving interpersonal skills, effective communication, and establishing boundaries, leading to enhanced relationship satisfaction.
  • Anxiety and Depression: DBT incorporates techniques to manage symptoms of anxiety and depression by teaching individuals coping strategies and helping them develop a more positive and balanced outlook.

By addressing these common challenges, DBT empowers teens and young adults to lead more fulfilling lives and build a strong foundation for their future emotional well-being.

Components of DBT

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) consists of several key components that work together to help teens and young adults develop necessary skills for emotional regulation and improved mental health. These components include individual therapy, skills training, and phone coaching.

Individual Therapy

Individual therapy is a fundamental component of DBT. In this one-on-one setting, a trained therapist works closely with the teen or young adult to address specific challenges they may be facing. The therapist provides guidance, support, and practical strategies tailored to the individual's needs.

During individual therapy sessions, the therapist helps the client explore their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. They work together to identify patterns, set goals, and develop effective coping mechanisms. The therapist also assists in problem-solving and provides validation and encouragement throughout the process.

Skills Training

Skills training is a crucial part of DBT that focuses on teaching teens and young adults various skills to manage their emotions, improve relationships, and cope with stressful situations. These skills fall into four main categories: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.

DBT Skills Categories


Distress Tolerance

Emotion Regulation

Interpersonal Effectiveness

The table above outlines the four categories of DBT skills. Mindfulness helps individuals become more aware of the present moment and gain a better understanding of their thoughts and feelings. Distress tolerance skills equip individuals with techniques to tolerate and navigate distressing situations. Emotion regulation skills aim to enhance the ability to manage and regulate emotional responses. Interpersonal effectiveness skills focus on improving communication and building healthy relationships.

Skills training typically involves group sessions led by a therapist, where participants learn and practice these skills together. The group dynamic provides a supportive environment for individuals to share experiences, receive feedback, and learn from one another.

Phone Coaching

Phone coaching is an essential component of DBT that offers support outside of therapy sessions and skills training. It provides individuals with access to their therapist for guidance and assistance when they are facing challenging situations or require immediate support.

With phone coaching, teens and young adults can reach out to their therapist via phone or other agreed-upon means of communication. The therapist helps them apply the DBT skills they have learned to real-life situations, offering guidance and helping them navigate through difficulties.

Phone coaching is particularly valuable during times of crisis or when individuals need immediate support but are unable to attend therapy sessions. It reinforces the skills learned in therapy and helps individuals build resilience and gain confidence in managing their emotions and behaviors.

By incorporating individual therapy, skills training, and phone coaching, DBT provides a comprehensive approach to help teens and young adults develop the necessary skills and strategies for emotional well-being and improved mental health.

Benefits of DBT for Teens and Young Adults

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) offers numerous benefits for teens and young adults struggling with emotional and behavioral challenges. By targeting specific areas of development, DBT helps individuals build crucial life skills and improve their overall well-being. Let's explore some of the key benefits of DBT for this age group.

Improved Emotional Regulation

One of the primary goals of DBT is to enhance emotional regulation skills. Teens and young adults often face intense emotions that can be overwhelming and difficult to manage. Through DBT, individuals learn effective strategies to identify, understand, and regulate their emotions in a healthy manner.

DBT equips participants with practical techniques such as mindfulness, distress tolerance, and emotion regulation. These skills empower teens and young adults to navigate emotional challenges more effectively, reducing impulsive behaviors and promoting emotional stability.

Enhanced Interpersonal Relationships

Developing and maintaining healthy relationships is a common struggle for teens and young adults. DBT places significant emphasis on improving interpersonal effectiveness skills, enabling individuals to build and maintain meaningful connections with others.

By learning effective communication techniques, setting boundaries, and resolving conflicts, teens and young adults can foster healthier and more satisfying relationships. DBT helps individuals develop empathy, active listening, and negotiation skills, promoting healthier interactions with family, friends, and peers.

Coping Mechanisms for Stress and Anxiety

Teens and young adults often face high levels of stress and anxiety due to various life pressures. DBT provides valuable coping mechanisms to manage these challenges effectively. Through skills training and individual therapy, participants learn practical strategies to reduce stress, cope with anxiety, and improve overall mental well-being.

DBT equips individuals with skills such as problem-solving, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance. These techniques help teens and young adults navigate difficult situations, reduce anxiety, and build resilience in the face of stressors.

Understanding the benefits of DBT for teens and young adults can encourage individuals to seek the support they need to improve their emotional well-being. By enhancing emotional regulation skills, promoting healthier relationships, and providing effective coping mechanisms, DBT empowers this age group to lead happier, more fulfilling lives.

Success Stories with DBT

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) has proven to be effective in helping teens and young adults navigate their emotional well-being. Through the implementation of DBT techniques and strategies, individuals have experienced significant improvements in their mental health and overall quality of life. Let's explore some real-life examples of success stories and hear testimonials from teens and young adults who have benefited from DBT.

Real-Life Examples of DBT Success

DBT has made a positive impact on the lives of many teens and young adults. Here are a few inspiring real-life examples showcasing the effectiveness of DBT:

  1. Case Study 1: Sarah
  • Age: 17
  • Background: Sarah struggled with self-harm and intense mood swings. Her relationships were strained due to her difficulty in managing her emotions.
  • DBT Journey: Through individual therapy and skills training, Sarah learned techniques to regulate her emotions, such as mindfulness and distress tolerance. She also received phone coaching to provide support during challenging moments.
  • Outcome: Over time, Sarah developed healthier coping mechanisms, improved her relationships, and reduced self-destructive behaviors. She regained control over her emotions and became more resilient.
  1. Case Study 2: Michael
  • Age: 20
  • Background: Michael suffered from anxiety and struggled with impulsive behavior, leading to frequent conflicts with friends and family.
  • DBT Journey: Michael engaged in individual therapy sessions and participated in skills training groups. He learned skills such as emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and self-compassion.
  • Outcome: Through DBT, Michael gained the tools to manage his anxiety, communicate effectively, and make healthier decisions. He developed stronger relationships and experienced a significant reduction in impulsive behavior.

Testimonials from Teens and Young Adults

Hearing directly from those who have undergone DBT can provide valuable insight into the impact of this therapy. Here are some testimonials from teens and young adults who have found DBT beneficial:

These testimonials highlight the positive impact DBT has had on the emotional well-being and personal growth of teens and young adults. It is a testament to the effectiveness of DBT in providing individuals with the tools they need to navigate their emotions, develop healthy relationships, and thrive in their daily lives.

If you or a loved one is considering DBT, these success stories and testimonials can serve as encouragement to explore this therapy and take the first step towards emotional well-being.

Getting Started with DBT

If you or someone you know is interested in exploring Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for teens and young adults, it's important to understand the steps involved in getting started with this therapeutic approach. This section will guide you through finding DBT providers, what to expect in a DBT program, and the support systems available for continued progress.

Finding DBT Providers

When seeking DBT treatment, it's crucial to find qualified professionals who specialize in this therapeutic approach. Here are some steps to help you find DBT providers:

  1. Research: Start by researching mental health professionals or clinics in your area that offer DBT. Look for licensed therapists or counselors with expertise in providing DBT specifically for teens and young adults.
  2. Referrals: Ask your primary care physician, school counselor, or trusted individuals in your network for recommendations. They may be able to refer you to DBT providers who have a good reputation and experience in working with teens and young adults.
  3. Online directories: Utilize online directories or databases that list mental health professionals and their areas of expertise. Look for those who specifically mention DBT and have experience working with adolescents and young adults.
  4. Contacting providers: Once you have a list of potential DBT providers, reach out to them to inquire about their services, availability, and fees. It's important to find a provider who is a good fit for you or your loved one, so feel free to ask questions and discuss your specific needs.

What to Expect in a DBT Program

A standard DBT program typically consists of several components aimed at promoting emotional well-being and skill development. Here are the key elements you can expect in a DBT program for teens and young adults:

DBT programs are typically structured and may involve a commitment of several months or more, depending on individual progress and treatment goals. It's important to have open communication with your DBT provider to ensure that the program is tailored to your specific needs.

Support Systems for Continued Progress

DBT is not just limited to the therapy sessions themselves. Ongoing support systems play a crucial role in ensuring continued progress and well-being. Here are some support systems commonly incorporated in DBT programs:

  1. Skills coaching: In addition to the skills learned in group sessions, individuals are encouraged to practice and apply these skills in their daily lives. This may involve keeping a skills diary or journal, using self-help resources, or engaging in activities that reinforce the learned techniques.
  2. Peer support: Connecting with others who are also undergoing DBT can be valuable. Peer support groups can provide a safe space to share experiences, offer encouragement, and learn from one another.
  3. Family involvement: In many cases, involving family members in the treatment process can be beneficial. This may include family therapy sessions or psychoeducation for family members to better understand DBT principles and provide support.
  4. Aftercare resources: DBT programs often provide aftercare resources to support individuals in maintaining progress after completing the program. These resources may include referrals for continued therapy, relapse prevention strategies, or recommendations for ongoing self-care practices.

By finding qualified DBT providers, understanding what to expect in a DBT program, and utilizing the available support systems, teens and young adults can embark on a journey towards emotional wellness and develop effective strategies for managing their emotions and behaviors.





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