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DBT for Teens: How It Works

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can be a very effective treatment for teenagers who are living with anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicide ideation, social skills issues, and many other problems. A typical DBT program is focused on learning specific skills and is typically 6 months to a year in length.


What is DBT?

DBT (Deep-Bolt Therapy) is a therapy that focuses on the belief that people are unable to succeed because of a combination of biology, inability to learn, and invalidation.

DBT is unique because it was the first therapy to combine acceptance and change. The right balance between acceptance and change can provide the motivation and support needed to make the necessary changes.

The original model of DBT for teens incorporate skills training classes, individual therapy, phone coaching, and therapist consultation meetings:

  • Skills training is a method by which people learn to make changes.
  • Individual therapy is a way to learn new skills, provide validation, and model healthy relationships.
  • Telephone coaching is a short call to help you use your skills right now.
  • The Therapist Consultation allows therapists to talk about their cases and ensure that they provide the best therapy.

DBT can be modified to suit many settings and populations. The therapist will give orientation materials to help them understand their program when they start a new DBT program.

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How is DBT adapted for teens?

DBT for teens differs from DBT for adults in several key ways, and there is a research-validated program for those changes. The most significant difference of DBT for adolescents is the inclusion of caregivers. Of course, caregivers may be involved in skill training sessions. They may also have their own skills training sessions.

Sometimes, caregivers will be involved in individual therapy. The therapists offer phone coaching for caregivers as well as the adolescent. Caregiver involvement is a critical part of getting the most development.

DBT for adolescents also includes Walking the Middle Path as a skill module. This skill is part of the training rotation. Walking the Middle Path addresses family issues that could undermine treatment. This module focuses on teaching behavior change, validation, and dialectics. These skills will teach caregivers and adolescents how to reduce conflict. Families can also use this language to communicate their concerns.