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Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Young woman visiting dbt therapist for anxiety

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a modified version of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a popular and effective treatment for substance use disorders. Like other cognitive behavioral therapies, DBT can help to address harmful patterns of thinking and behavior.

In this case, the term “dialectical” means working with opposites. With dialectical behavior therapy, treatment involves the opposing ideas of acceptance of circumstances and desire to change.

DBT is an effective treatment often used for teens who are struggling with substance use or addiction. Many of these teens are also experiencing other mental health problems, difficulty with relationships, trouble regulating emotional responses or problems coping with challenges. DBT can help teens accept their thoughts, feelings, and circumstances and change their behavior and emotional responses. New skills and strategies can support recovery and help teens lead meaningful and fulfilling lives after inpatient treatment.

What Is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

Though many people have likely heard of cognitive behavioral therapy, fewer people are aware of dialectical behavior therapy. The history of DBT began with trial-and-error explorations into various types of traditional behavioral therapies. It was first developed to address unmet needs for patients experiencing suicidal thoughts or difficult-to-treat mental illness. Though DBT originally focused on helping patients solve problems, it has grown to incorporate strategies of acceptance, change, and additional therapeutic support.

DBT for teens is a type of therapy that includes different levels of treatment, including psychological therapy, group meetings, and skill-building. The goals of DBT include teaching patients to accept things outside of their control and building skills to tolerate challenges without reacting destructively. DBT focuses on four main modules, including:

  • Mindfulness
  • Emotion regulation
  • Interpersonal effectiveness
  • Distress tolerance

Adolescence is a challenging time, but substance use disorders and mental health problems can make challenges worse. DBT can help teens to deal with stressful situations through new coping skills that are not related to drugs or alcohol.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Techniques

There are different DBT techniques that can help a person to recognize unhelpful patterns and change thoughts and behavior. Although the original DBT manual follows a 12-month treatment program, treatment has been shortened and simplified to be more appropriate and engaging for teens.

Several components of DBT focus on relationships and support. This treatment approach usually includes a team of health professionals, with multiple people available to provide support and guidance. DBT may also include telephone coaching between therapy sessions to provide extra contact or support for teens during challenges.

DBT techniques also focus on building new skills that can be used when a teen experiences distress or other challenges. These skills are learned and practiced in individual and group settings, and teens learn to think about triggers for substance misuse and how they can respond differently.

Emotion regulation skills are also an important part of DBT. These skills can help people to understand the connections between certain events and their emotional or physical responses. Learning these skills can be done through modeling, role play, using worksheets or attending group skill-building sessions. DBT activities for teenagers have an extra focus on reducing unhelpful behaviors and increasing behavioral skills.

Does Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Work?

As a less-traditional therapy, some patients may wonder if DBT really works. DBT is an evidence-based therapy, with research demonstrating that it is effective in treating complex or co-occurring mental disorders. DBT may also be appropriate for kids and teenagers, as it provides extra care compared to other therapies and can help to provide skills and strategies for adulthood.

There are a few pros and cons of DBT that should be considered before deciding on treatment. Overall, DBT can help teens change how they respond to difficult situations, which allows them to stop turning to drugs and alcohol as a coping strategy. However, DBT is a time-consuming and intensive therapy that can often involve the whole family. DBT has been shown to be an effective treatment, but these pros and cons should be discussed before starting therapy.

Difference Between CBT and DBT

DBT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy, and both therapies are aimed at understanding thoughts, behaviors and emotional responses. Although they are similar types of therapy, there are some differences between CBT and DBT.

CBT tends to focus on how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors interact with one another. DBT emphasizes regulating emotions, being present and accepting discomfort, frustration or fear. DBT also includes skill modules that focus on mindfulness, maintaining healthy relationships with others and accepting feelings and experiences.

CBT can help teens understand why they feel or react the way they do. Therapy activities for teens often take place in a group, but they should also be tailored to individual needs.

DBT in Teen Addiction Treatment

Given the success of DBT among adults, there’s been increased interest in using this therapy among young people. Teens who enter residential treatment are often experiencing complex mental health issues, and holistic and team-based treatment approaches have been shown to support recovery.

DBT is important for teen addiction and mental health treatment because it avoids focusing exclusively on problem-solving, or suggesting that teens aren’t trying hard enough to address problems. DBT recognizes that teens may have experienced trauma or challenges that impacted their substance use or mental health, and it helps them accept things and build new skills to change.

Residential treatment is a good opportunity to learn and practice new skills in a safe, focused environment. Teens receive care and support throughout the day, and many treatment facilities offer education and support for parents. This allows parents to learn about treatment and DBT so that they can support their teen’s behavior change at home following treatment.

Next Generation Village provides a range of treatment programs for teens struggling with addiction. Based on in-depth assessments, we can help to determine the most appropriate type of therapy. DBT is just one of the therapies available for teens in residential care, and our staff can help to answer any questions you may have about treatment options or what to expect.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, contact us today to discuss treatment and therapy options that can work well for your situation.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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