What is DBT and How Can It Help My Teen?


I get this question all the time: What is DBT and how can it help my teen?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (or DBT) is an evidence-based therapy designed to help people change patterns of behavior that are unhelpful. If your teen is struggling with any of the following, DBT can help.

  • anger management
  • depression
  • anxiety/panic
  • self-harm
  • suicidal thoughts
  • excessive worrying
  • negative judgments of self
  • impulsivity
  • emotion regulation
  • attention problems
  • relationship problems (peers and family)

The basic premise behind DBT is to live a life worth living by gaining the skills addressed in each of the four DBT modules:

  1. Core Mindfulness - The skills learned in this module encourage your teen to be more mindful in daily life. They will learn the difference between their Emotion Mind and their Reason Mind, and be able to blend the two to operate more from their Wise Mind. They will also become more in touch with their emotions, thoughts, and body sensations, and be able to identify when they are using judgments and how to reframe them.

  2. Distress Tolerance - These skills are designed to teach your teen how to tolerate a stressful moment, soothe him or her self, and be able to accept the moment nonjudgmentally without making the situation worse.

  3. Emotion Regulation - These skills will help your teen decrease their negative emotions, increase their positive emotions, and understand the relationship between their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. 

  4. Interpersonal Effectiveness - These skills will help your teen identify how thoughts and emotions can get in the way of effectively communicating with others, and are designed to teach your teen how to both be assertive and increase his or her chances of more positive communication.

Being trained in DBT, I use these skills regularly in both individual and group sessions with teens. I believe these skills to be incredibly beneficial to both teens and parents, and the good news is that the research agrees with me!