You may have heard of DBT but have no idea what it is actually used for. Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT is a form of mental health treatment originally developed for adults who struggled with extremely intense and unstable emotions, as well as self-injurious behaviors like cutting and chronic suicidal thinking. Dr. Marsha Linehan is credited with creating this model of treatment, and over the past 30 years, it’s been found very beneficial for all kinds of issues, like depression, anxiety, impulsivity, eating disorders, etc.
DBT teaches skills that can significantly improve the internal experience of anyone struggling with stress and anxiety, emotional strife, and relationship difficulties, which are common complaints of teenagers these days. Without fail, when I have a teen client sitting in front of me, I am amazed at how busy they are and how overwhelmed they feel with the challenges of growing up and becoming adults. DBT includes all areas of potential skills-deficits that teens may be faced with: emotion regulation, mindfulness skills, distress tolerance, and interpersonal relationship skills.
Originally, DBT was designed as an intensive program that consisted of 12 months of weekly group and individual therapy with the therapist available almost 24 hours a day for coaching to help clients implement various skills at home and outside of therapy. However, this isn’t practical for a lot of people, and since DBT works with such a wide range of concerns, it isn’t always necessary for teenagers (or therapists!) to commit to such an involved process. Fortunately, DBT can also work great in individual therapy with a trained therapist teaching skills in session and then following up to ensure teens are using the skills outside of therapy. Personally, I like to also teach the skills to the parents of my teen clients since you all live with your teen and can provide a lot of great support at home, which helps with reinforcing the skills in your teen’s everyday life.
So, how exactly can DBT help my teen?
Mindfulness skills--These key skills help teens learn to slow down, integrate impulse control into their everyday lives, and use both logic and emotion in healthy ways.
Management of Emotions--Adolescence is definitely a time when emotions feel more intense, so these skills support teens with getting back in touch with their feelings and learning to regulate internally without having to use outside sources (drugs, alcohol, sex, screens) to feel better.
Relationship skills--We know that perfect scores in school, being able to perform well on tests, and all the other measures of success that we base our teens’ growth and developmental milestones on are really meaningless if that person cannot have healthy connection with others. Teens struggle more often through many of life’s normal difficulties if they don’t have meaningful and supportive relationships in their lives. These skills help teens learn how to maintain such healthy relationships.
Crisis Management--These skills are called distress tolerance skills and are incredibly beneficial in helping ‘weather the storm’ when we are faced with issues we cannot control. Instead of crumbling and isolating or becoming depressed, teens learn to use healthy tools to get through problems that they cannot immediately fix or change.
If you think your teen is struggling with managing what’s going on within themselves or if you are doing more for them than they feel confident to do for themselves, then it may be time to look into DBT for your teen. It will give them the life skills they need to move on into adulthood and become active participants in their own lives and the lives of those people they encounter as they grow.
We are here to help if you need us!
Seija Zimmerman, LMFT
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818