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Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

The teenage years can be very tumultuous but for teens with behavioral problems or emotional instability, this chaotic time can be traumatic and wrought with stress. If your child shows signs of depression, anxiety, anger, or emotional distress and self-medicates with drugs or alcohol, proper treatment is essential.

teen-dbt2.pngFor many families, finding the line between normal teenage moodiness and mental illness can be very challenging. Some parents simply believe their children are experimenting or pushing boundaries with partying, when in fact deeper, more serious problems may be occurring.

Unfortunately, nearly 8% of young adults between the ages of 12 and 17 struggle with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and behavior disorders, while substance abuse among this population is not uncommon. Facing the reality of co-occurring disorders can be very emotionally challenging, and parents with teens in trouble may not know where to turn.

If you believe therapy is a necessity to help your teen regain a healthier approach to life, Teen Treatment Center is here. As a licensed teen rehabilitation center, we are able to provide the care and professional resources necessary to help your teen make a full recovery. Please contact us at (844) 319-5239 at any time, day or night, to speak to a member of our admissions team. 

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

In essence, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (or DBT) is a scientifically-developed approach to behavioral therapy that focuses both on identifying triggers to unhealthy behavior, as well as fostering the ability to self-regulate extreme negative emotions. This practice effectively addresses the root of struggles with addiction, assisting teens in need with a better approach to releasing aggression and dealing with symptoms of mental disorders.

DBT is most effective in treating young adults with numerous co-occurring issues, namely mental illness in conjunction with substance abuse habits. At Teen Treatment Center, we are able to help your child identify and work through their extreme negative emotions, like rage, depression, and anxiety, while also addressing their extreme behaviors, such as suicidal tendencies, disordered eating, and the abuse of illicit substances.

The process governing DBT operates on balancing both acceptance – "I realize that I have these feelings" – and a commitment to change – "there are other, more positive ways that I can deal with these feelings.” Progress through DBT is slow, but positive reinforcement is central, celebrating little successes while encouraging further efforts in overcoming continued problem areas. This combines many of the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with an added emphasis on mindfulness, providing a healthy outlet on which to refocus results of emotional regulation.

The History of DBT

Dialectical Behavior Therapy was first proposed in the 1980s by Dr. Marsha Linehan, a researcher working in psychology at the University of Washington. The concept began as an evolved form of CBT with an added focus on mindfulness and acceptance, helping patients to feel as though even the smallest steps forward are worthy of acknowledgement. This "one day at a time" approach is a distinct departure from then-current treatment models, which often saw a lack of results as stemming from a lack of effort. The adjustment in perspective seen in DBT stems from the extreme side-effects of those suffering from severe emotional disturbance and the overall necessity of positive reinforcement in these circumstances.

Early methods were designed specifically to assist those with Borderline Personality Disorder and those with continued suicidal inclinations, offering a more supportive therapeutic alternative that worked to actively dissuade self-harm. Historically, therapists have struggled to address these kinds of cases, as any negative feedback threatens to put volatile patients at risk for extreme unhealthy behaviors. 

DBT Help for teens

How DBT Is Used Today

Today, DBT relies on four key modules: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.


Mindfulness is a core philosophy of DBT, helping patients to be aware of the present moment and accepting of behavioral patterns and emotional responses. Mindfulness gives patients the ability to increase their self-awareness, as well as practice to identify and control impulsive thoughts and behaviors. Often intrinsically tied to meditative practices, mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist traditions and involves consciousness of the present moment and a full embrace of one's sense of self.

Distress Tolerance

Reacting appropriately to stressors in the moment can be a significantly difficult issue for those fighting mental illness. Distress tolerance practices are designed to define and target emotional reactions to distress, helping patients to calmly recognize their present painful circumstances and potential healthy responses, rather than simply hiding or lashing out.

Emotional Regulation

For those fighting mental illness, controlling emotions can be extremely challenging under the best of circumstances. DBT helps individuals to identify and label emotions, reduce vulnerability to extreme negative emotions through the concept of Mastery, and apply distress tolerance techniques to overcome negative stimuli. This concept is the basis upon which DBT's predecessor, CBT, was built.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

An inability to communicate clearly and effectively with others can be a point of severe frustration. Through DBT, patients learn more effective ways to communicate their wants and needs and to share ideas with others, which maximizes their ability to change responses, improve goal-seeking abilities when talking and sharing with others, being able to set healthy boundaries with peers, as well as feeling comfortable and able to ask for help when they need it.

DBT in Practice

Teen DBT TherapyOur approach to DBT therapy focuses on five key areas that can negatively affect behavior:

Confusion about identity (Does this have to do with roles, myths, etc?)

Emotional instability


Interpersonal challenges

Family conflict

Through talk therapy and the principles outlined within the four modules, our therapists can help patients to identify personal weaknesses, uncover the root of problematic feelings, and develop better ways to harness aggression, anxiety, and depression. Our therapists approach treatment in a positive way, encouraging teens to be mindful of the world around them, while celebrating even the smallest victories.

Due to the age of teenage patients, problems at home can often increase or exacerbate symptoms of mental disorders. As such, our program is designed to accommodate counseling with family members, providing an outlet for teens to air grievances, identify stressors, and work through interpersonal problems. This approach can be used to address issues like the shifting power dynamics between childhood and adulthood, demarcating the line between normal and atypical adolescent behavior, and the growing need for independence.

Benefits in Teen Treatment

For many teens, the adult world is a scary place. Transitioning from life as a dependent child to an independent adult can be extremely overwhelming, and the pressure to maintain appearances, academic performance, and interpersonal relationships can cause complex issues in even healthy teens.

DBT is an extremely effective approach for both children and teens due to the focus on positivity, mindfulness, and skill-building. Due to the instability of young adulthood, constructive reinforcement and supportive encouragement can facilitate successes within therapy. By helping teens to identify problem areas, like family dynamics, peer conflicts, or failing romantic relationships, and then to define inappropriate reactions and coping mechanisms, therapists can address addiction and its contributing factors.

Teen Treatment Center provides a welcoming environment for your teen, offering personalized individual and family therapy in order to see individualized results. We are able to address both behavioral and substance abuse disorders, helping teens to approach stress and distress in a healthier, more productive way.

Alternative Models to DBT

There are several alternatives to DBT that can be used to address mental illness and addiction. While the compassionate, encouraging nature of DBT is often seen as a benefit for teens, other avenues are available.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: This practice operates on many of the same principles as DBT without the emphasis on mindfulness. CBT focuses on emotional regulation to overcome behaviors associated with negative thought patterns, helping patients to identify poor responses and incorporate behavioral changes accordingly.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy: Known as ACT, this alternative is similar to the mindfulness portion of DBT and focuses on accepting thoughts and emotions without judgment. The overall concept is similar to DBT, but the therapies used to reinforce ideas and seek changes are quite different.

Get Help Today

If your child is struggling with mood, behavioral, or anxiety disorders that have either caused or influenced substance abuse problems, the licensed therapists at Teen Treatment Center can help. Through our intensive, individualized treatment programs rooted in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, we are able to help your teen identify destructive behaviors, regulate emotions, manage distress, and improve effective communication, leading to a healthier way to work through issues

Contact Teen Treatment Center today at (844) 319-5239 to learn more about what we are able to offer. All consultations are completely confidential and our counselors are standing by 24/7.

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