Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Teens

No matter what stage of life we find ourselves in, emotional struggles tend to be a consistent factor. For teenagers, in particular, it can be very difficult to navigate the physical and emotional changes that come with growing up.

But you don’t have to struggle alone—at the academy and at The Ridge, we offer therapeutic support for teens in our programs. One such tool is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). In this segment, we’re taking an inside look at DBT for teenagers, exploring the ways it works and how it differs from other forms of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. We’ll also dive into how Short-Ridge Academy utilizes DBT as a major therapeutic resource within all of its treatment programs for teens. So let’s get started!

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Teens?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a type of psychotherapy that is often used to treat a range of mental health issues in teenagers, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and substance abuse. It is a therapeutic approach that emphasizes the psychosocial aspects of treatment and helps teens learn new skills to manage emotions and improve their quality of life.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT, was developed in the late 1980s by psychologist Dr. Marsha Linehan. Initially, it was designed to treat individuals diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) who struggled with self-harm and suicidal tendencies. Dr. Linehan combined elements from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), the principles of dialectics, and mindfulness practices from Zen Buddhism to create a unique and comprehensive approach.

Over time, DBT has evolved and expanded, proving effective for a wider range of mental health disorders. Its application has also broadened to various age groups, particularly adolescents.

Today, DBT is a well-established and evidence-based therapy used by mental health professionals worldwide. Its main goal is to help teenagers develop four core skills: mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) vs DBT for Teens

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) are both therapies designed to help teens address mental health issues, but they have some essential differences.

CBT is considered a more traditional therapy that focuses on teaching teens to recognize patterns of behavior and thought and challenge them when they are unhelpful or inaccurate. It helps identify triggers and find more productive ways to respond.

DBT is an offshoot of CBT and incorporates more acceptance-based strategies—such as mindfulness and distress tolerance—in addition to the cognitive strategies offered by CBT. It also emphasizes change as well as accepting reality, which often helps teens struggling with high levels of emotional distress. DBT offers skills such as problem-solving and emotion regulation that can help teens cope with stress in healthier ways.

The Benefits of DBT for Teens

DBT for teens provides lasting benefits that go beyond symptoms, helping teens to build the skills necessary for a healthy life and the ability to regulate their emotions, such as by recognizing what they’re feeling, regulating those feelings, and responding to situations with better problem-solving strategies.

Here are some of the key benefits of DBT for teens:

  • Helps regulate emotions. DBT teaches teens how to recognize and manage teen’s emotions in a healthy way. It helps reduce the intensity and frequency of mood swings and emotional outbursts.
  • Improves interpersonal skills. DBT teaches teens how to communicate effectively, set boundaries, and build healthy relationships with others. It improves their overall quality of life and reduces conflict with family and friends.
  • Reduces self-harm and suicidal behavior. DBT includes specific skills for managing intense emotions and reducing self-harm and suicidal behavior. This can be especially important for teens who are struggling with self-harm or suicidal thoughts.
  • Increases mindfulness. DBT includes mindfulness practices. It can help teens become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It also helps teens develop a greater sense of self-awareness and self-acceptance.
  • Builds distress tolerance. DBT teaches teens how to tolerate distressing emotions and situations without resorting to harmful behaviors or self-destructive actions.

Four Essential Skills in DBT for Teens

Most importantly, DBT lays great emphasis on building four essential skills in teens: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.


At its core, mindfulness teaches adolescents how to be aware of the present moment without judgment. It helps them understand their current emotional experience and observe it rather than respond impulsively. This helps them have greater awareness about their thoughts, feelings, and behavior, as well as an understanding of how all three can affect each other.

Emotional Regulation

This skill set assists teens with recognizing and managing challenging emotions so they can get through difficult experiences while maintaining balance and self-control. This part also involves breaking negative thought patterns so teens can shift their perspective and practice healthy behaviors instead of destructive ones.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

Interpersonal effectiveness focuses on teaching teenagers how to communicate constructively with others while still feeling respected. It highlights various communication styles so teens can learn which one works best for them in different situations with different people when trying to reach a desired outcome or goal.

Distress Tolerance

Adolescents often engage in impulsive behaviors when overwhelmed by distressful emotions due to a lack of coping skills and awareness about more adaptive responses such as walking away.

By understanding these four essential skills, teenagers may increase their emotional control, enhance their interpersonal interactions, and lead a more well-rounded and satisfying life. These abilities can be used in a variety of circumstances and can help in overcoming a range of difficulties, including minor mental health disorders and daily stressors.

Common Mental Health Issues Treated with DBT for Teens

DBT is a versatile therapy that can be applied to a wide range of mental health issues in teenagers. Among these conditions are:

  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Self-harm
  • Trauma and PTSD
  • Depressions
  • Anger Issues
  • ADHD
  • Suicidal attempts
  • Alcohol addiction

DBT will likely be more effective for you if:

  • You’re determined to improve yourself for the better.
  • You’re prepared to put in a lot of effort in treatment and your homework.
  • You’re prepared to put a greater priority on your present and future than your past.
  • You can participate in some sessions in a group with others.

Finding DBT Therapy for Your Teen

dbt for teens in NH

Finding DBT therapy for your teen may seem overwhelming, but following these steps can help you locate an appropriate therapist or program:

  1. Contacting your insurance company is a good place to start. Your insurance company may be able to recommend a list of participating therapists and organizations that covers the therapy.
  2. Consult with your teen’s primary care physician or a mental health professional. They may have recommendations for DBT therapists or programs in your area.
  3. Research local DBT programs and therapists online. Look for providers who specialize in working with adolescents and have experience treating the specific issues your teen is facing.
  4. Contact potential therapists or programs. Reach out to potential therapists or programs to see if they offer DBT programs or therapists who specialize in DBT for teens.
  5. Ask friends, family, or other trusted individuals for recommendations. They may know any DBT therapists or programs in your area.

Remember that finding the right DBT therapist or program may take time, but it’s essential to find a provider that best meets your teen’s needs and fosters a strong therapeutic relationship.

Questions to Ask When Considering a Therapist Who Uses DBT

Once you have found a potential DBT therapist or program, it can be helpful to schedule an initial consultation to learn more about the program and determine if it is a good fit for your teen’s needs.

Here are some questions you should ask them:

Q: Are they trained and certified?

A: It’s important to make sure that any therapist you’re considering is trained and certified in DBT, so you can be confident that they have the right qualifications to provide quality care.

Q: What is their experience working with adolescents?

A: Adolescents have unique needs, so it’s important to consider the therapist’s experience working with adolescents specifically. Ask them about their background and focus on adolescent mental health.

Q: How long have they been using DBT?

A: The more experience a therapist has using DBT with teens, the better. You want a therapist who is familiar with DBT and will be able to apply it effectively to your teen’s individual needs.

Q: Do they provide a comprehensive approach?

A: A comprehensive approach involves offering other therapeutic techniques in addition to DBT, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and other treatment modalities that may be necessary in treating your teen’s mental health issues. This will ensure your teen is receiving an effective and tailored form of treatment.

How Short-Ridge Academy Utilizes DBT in Treatment Programs

dbt for young adults

Short-Ridge Academy uses DBT for teens as a major therapeutic resource within our treatment programs. We understand that sometimes teens are overwhelmed by their feelings and don’t know how to cope. That is why our team of specialized clinicians uses DBT as an effective form of therapy to teach adolescents how to manage their emotions, control their behaviors, and ultimately make better decisions.

When using the principles of DBT in our treatment programs, the focus is on the four essential skills: mindfulness, emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance. Get started on the road to healing by contacting us right away!

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