Dialectical Behavioral Therapy for Teens

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Over 17% of kids and teens are diagnosed with a mental, developmental, or behavior disorder. For adolescents that suffer from depression, they are over 70% likely to also have anxiety. Not all mental, behavioral, or developmental disorders lead to long-term problems. However, teenagers are at a vulnerable developmental stage during this time. Mental illnesses create higher risks for suicide, substance abuse, and developing co-occurring disorders. Some parents worry about searching for ‘dialectical behavioral therapy near me’. Dialectical behavioral therapy is a highly useful tool for teens, as it has had lasting and positive effects on patients. 

To learn more about what dialectical behavioral program for teens is, then keep reading. 

What Is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) first arose during the 1970s. During this time, practitioners had a challenging time treating borderline personality disorder. 

When cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) was unsuccessful, doctors turned down a different route. After trying mindfulness, another cognitive approach, they were once again unsuccessful.

From the failures of CBT and mindfulness, DBT was born. This form of cognitive therapy incorporated aspects of CBT and mindfulness. After combining the two treatments, DBT works in treating high levels of emotional instability. 

Qualifiers for emotion instability include extreme dysregulation. It also includes a person’s inability in managing these extreme emotions. Usually, DBT provides group and individual counseling sessions for these diagnoses. 

While DBT has many uses in treating borderline personality disorder, especially in teens, it can be used in a variety of other diagnoses such as: 

  • Substance abuse disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression and anxiety
  • ADHD

Another added benefit of DBT is that it is not solely designed for treating one condition. In fact, it is helpful in treating co-occurring conditions such as ADHD, depression, and anxiety. 

What can DBT achieve for teens struggling with mental illnesses and disorders? Some proven benefits of DBT include:

  • Improved perspective
  • Higher levels of motivation
  • Better coping and tolerance skills
  • Psychological flexibility

For teens who have suicide ideation or past suicide attempts, this treatment is often recommended. 

Components of DBT

The therapeutic skills that teens learn from DBT stem from four different approaches including:

  • Mindfulness
  • Distress tolerance
  • Emotional regulation
  • Interpersonal effectiveness

Mindfulness has gained popularity in recent years. It is deeply incorporated during therapy and counseling sessions. Many people also adopt mindfulness for meditative reasons.

The core of mindfulness is improving a person’s ability to be present.

Distress tolerance helps patients build a tolerance towards negative thoughts. Many other programs or coping strategies mask negative thought patterns. 

Emotional regulation is an extremely important skill for mental illnesses. In fact, it is one of the biggest limitations that people with borderline personality disorder have.

The best example of this stems from the 1970s. During this time, practitioners had difficulties teaching people emotional regulation skills. 

DBT utilizes techniques such as group counseling and individualized sessions. These treatments also help manage extreme displays of emotion. Lastly, interpersonal effectiveness helps patients develop effective communication strategies. 

DBT Programs

DBT is best carried out in a facility with trained staff members that help address disorders that are relevant to teens. A recovery program can gear specific methods, treatments, and programs to different diagnoses.  

Our program also prides itself in allowing families to be a part of a teen’s recovery and therapy. Family education and training are an integral part of the process. 

Our dialectical behavioral therapy in Georgia focuses on family visitation on the weekends. During this time, families can participate in group therapy or training. Teens can also participate in spiritual groups or other recreational activities.

During weekday routines, teens participate in a variety of courses and therapy sessions. These include counseling, studying, psychoeducational courses, and follow-up appointments with the medical director. 

Telehealth vs In-Person

Due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, many facilities have turned towards telehealth. It is a vital tool for patients and practitioners. It also allows for continuity of care.

Some studies have looked at the pros and cons of DBT in a digital format. Practitioners that used telehealth for DBT approaches noted a few common problems such as: 

  • Higher avoidance
  • Reduce group therapy effectiveness
  • Higher distractions

Ultimately, in-person programs allow direct consultation with skilled practitioners. This provides closer monitoring of patients who have suicidal tendencies. Counselors and practitioners can also sometimes interact better with patients in person.

This way, they can ensure better eye contact and engagement in discussions.

What Do The Studies Show?

Since its time in the spotlight in the 1970s, many researchers have taken to studying how – and if – DBT is effective for teens. One study evaluated 20 teens. Each teen had a diagnosis such as a behavior disorder, poor impulse control, or emotional dysregulation. 

Initially, the researchers highlighted emotional dysregulation. They emphasized the role it plays in borderline personality disorder. Teens with this diagnosis have some common issues.

This includes greater emotional sensitivity, negative affect, inappropriate emotional regulations, and maladaptive strategies. 

After completing a 16-week course of skills that are taught by DBT principles, teens reported positive results. Overall, there was a higher recognition of emotional dysregulation issues. 

Additionally, teens reported better adaptability in managing emotions and utilizing reflection strategies. 

Another comprehensive study combined 21 other studies. Their goal was to assess whether DBT works towards reducing self-injury risks in teens. Self-injury can be anything from picking hair, burning, bruising, cutting, or biting, to name a few. 

When teens show signs of self-harm, they have a higher risk of further mental illnesses or suicide ideation. 

After the meta-analysis was conducted, over 1,600 teens and adolescents were evaluated. The results showed that DBT reduced suicide ideation and self-harm by small to moderate amounts. 

The researchers concluded it was an effective tool for treating self-harm behaviors. 


One of the larger debates is whether CBT is better than DBT. Additionally, DBT often gets confused or lumped in with CBT.

As mentioned earlier, DBT does have components of CBT, but they differ in treatment methods. For example, CBT focuses heavily on someone’s thought patterns. This approach looks at how negative thought processes lead to certain behaviors.

After detecting a negative thought pattern, cognitive therapy works towards adjusting it. In return, this is can change negative behaviors. CBT is commonly used for substance abuse disorders or addiction. 

DBT provides more emphasis on a person’s interactions with the environment and other people. DBT also places a higher focus on communication within relationships and teaching someone to remain in the present. 

Using mindfulness and acceptance are some of the biggest distinguishing factors of DBT. In people with borderline personality disorder, DBT reduced medication use and treatment by almost 90%. 

Co-Occurring Disorders

Finding therapy for teens is tricky. We understand how challenging it is to place trust in a program. One of the more difficult aspects of finding a dialectical behavioral therapy in Atlanta, GA is knowing if the facility provides individualized treatments for co-occurring disorders. 

A co-occurring disorder means that a person has a substance abuse disorder and mental health disorder. Substance abuse problems can either be alcohol or drug abuse. 

DBT is unique in that it is highly useful for treating co-occurring disorders. One study examined the use of therapy for treating people who had a substance abuse disorder and an eating disorder. 

Many of the females who were involved in this study also had reports of depression. These patients participated in DBT for a year. Afterward, researchers followed up with the participants every three months for an entire year. 

Those who were assigned in the randomized control group had substantial drop-out numbers in the follow-up period. However, there were significant and positive results seen in those who participated in DBT.

Some of the findings following treatment included: 

  • Positive attitudes towards eating disorders
  • Decreased substance abuse
  • Improved mood regulation
  • Reduced depression
  • Improved coping skills
  • Improved confidence

The researchers suggested DBT as a form of treating these co-occurring disorders. There was another big takeaway from this study. The large discrepancy in dropout rates between the two groups after one year shed light on long-term effects. 

However, more studies are needed at this time for assessing long-term success with patients who undergo DBT at an early age. 

Find, ‘Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Near Me’

Finding a ‘dialectical behavioral therapy near me’ does not have to be challenging. We provide various services that are focused on recovery for adolescents. DBT is a treatment that is highly recommended and implemented in our facility. 

If your teen is struggling with mental illnesses, addictions, or substance abuse disorders, then contact us today. Let one of our skilled staff members help answer any further questions about treatment plans.