Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Young Adults and Adolescents

Understanding Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that has been developed to help individuals with various mental health challenges manage distressful emotions, maintain relationships, and gain control over their behaviors. It combines elements of traditional cognitive-behavioral techniques with concepts of distress tolerance, acceptance, and mindful awareness.

What is DBT?

DBT, developed in the late 1980s by psychologist Marsha M. Linehan, is a comprehensive cognitive-behavioral treatment approach that emphasizes the psychosocial aspects of therapy. It focuses on helping individuals synthesize opposing concepts, ultimately leading to greater self-awareness and behavioral change [2].

History and Development of DBT

DBT was originally designed to treat individuals with borderline personality disorder. Marsha M. Linehan developed this therapy approach after recognizing the limitations of traditional cognitive-behavioral techniques in effectively treating individuals with intense emotional dysregulation. Over time, DBT has been adapted and expanded to address various mental health conditions and has shown promising results in enhancing self-regulation skills, distress tolerance, and present-moment focus [3].

The Core Principles of DBT

DBT is guided by several core principles that form the foundation of the therapy. These principles include:

  1. Dialectics: DBT emphasizes the synthesis of opposites, recognizing that change and acceptance can coexist. It encourages individuals to balance acceptance of their current circumstances with the motivation to change problematic behaviors.
  2. Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a key component of DBT. It involves cultivating non-judgmental awareness of the present moment, allowing individuals to observe and accept their thoughts, emotions, and sensations without getting caught up in them.
  3. Individual Therapy: DBT typically involves individual therapy sessions, where individuals work one-on-one with a trained therapist to address specific challenges, develop skills, and apply therapeutic strategies to their daily lives.
  4. Skills Training Group: In DBT, individuals participate in skills training groups where they learn practical skills to manage emotions, improve interpersonal effectiveness, and tolerate distressful situations. These groups provide a supportive environment for learning and practicing new skills.
  5. Phone Coaching: DBT may include phone coaching, where individuals have access to their therapists outside of scheduled sessions. This allows for additional support during challenging situations or crises.
  6. Consultation Team: DBT therapists often participate in consultation teams, where they receive supervision and support from other DBT therapists. This collaborative approach helps therapists maintain their own effectiveness and ensure the delivery of high-quality care.

By understanding the foundations of DBT, including its core principles, individuals can gain insight into the therapeutic approach and how it can be utilized to address a range of mental health challenges.

Targeting Mental Health with DBT

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a therapeutic approach that has shown to be highly effective in treating various mental health conditions. Let's explore who can benefit from DBT and the mental health conditions that can be treated using this approach.

Who Can Benefit from DBT?

DBT is designed to help individuals who struggle with emotional regulation, impulsive behaviors, and difficulties in maintaining relationships. It was initially developed to treat individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD), but it has also proven to be beneficial for those with other mental health conditions.

DBT is particularly well-suited for individuals who experience intense and difficult-to-manage emotions, engage in self-harm behaviors, have a history of suicide attempts, or struggle with chronic suicidal thoughts. It can also be helpful for individuals with eating disorders, substance use disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Mental Health Conditions Treated with DBT

DBT has been extensively researched and has shown positive outcomes for various mental health conditions. Some of the conditions commonly treated with DBT include:

  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): DBT was originally developed to treat BPD, and it has been shown to be highly effective in reducing self-harm behaviors, suicidal tendencies, and improving overall functioning in individuals with BPD.
  • Self-Harm: DBT provides individuals with alternative coping skills to manage distressing emotions, reducing the need for self-harm behaviors.
  • Eating Disorders: DBT can be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for individuals with eating disorders, helping them regulate their emotions, develop healthier relationships with food, and improve body image.
  • Substance Use Disorders: DBT can be beneficial in treating individuals with substance use disorders by addressing the emotional dysregulation and impulsive behaviors that often contribute to addictive behaviors.
  • Depression: DBT focuses on teaching individuals emotional regulation skills and enhancing their ability to engage in pleasurable activities, which can be particularly helpful in managing depressive symptoms.
  • Anxiety Disorders: DBT incorporates mindfulness and distress tolerance skills, which can assist individuals in managing anxiety symptoms and reducing avoidance behaviors.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): DBT can be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for individuals with PTSD, helping them regulate their emotions and develop skills to cope with trauma-related distress.

It's important to note that while DBT has shown effectiveness for these conditions, it may not be the sole treatment approach and should be tailored to individual needs. A qualified mental health professional can provide a comprehensive assessment and determine if DBT is an appropriate treatment option.

DBT offers hope and practical strategies for individuals struggling with various mental health conditions, empowering them to lead fulfilling lives and build healthier relationships. With the guidance of a skilled therapist, individuals can learn valuable skills to manage their emotions, develop effective coping strategies, and enhance their overall well-being.

Components of Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a comprehensive treatment approach that consists of various components to provide individuals with the necessary skills and support for managing their mental health. The main components of DBT include individual therapy, skills training group, phone coaching, and consultation team meetings. Let's explore each component in detail.

Individual Therapy

Individual therapy forms the foundation of DBT. In this one-on-one setting, the individual works closely with a therapist to address their specific concerns and develop personalized strategies for managing their emotions and behaviors.

The therapist and client collaborate to set treatment goals, track progress, and apply the skills learned in other components of DBT. Individual therapy sessions provide a safe and supportive environment for exploring challenges, enhancing motivation, and building a strong therapeutic alliance.

Skills Training Group

The skills training group is a structured and educational component of DBT. It typically involves a small group of individuals, led by a trained therapist, who teaches specific skills that are essential for emotional regulation, distress tolerance, mindfulness, and interpersonal effectiveness.

These groups provide a supportive environment for learning and practicing new skills, as well as sharing experiences and insights with others who may be facing similar challenges. The skills training group often follows a curriculum that covers various modules, allowing participants to build a comprehensive toolkit for managing their mental health.

Phone Coaching

Phone coaching is an integral part of DBT that offers clients support and guidance outside of scheduled therapy sessions. It allows individuals to reach out to their therapist for assistance in applying the skills learned in therapy to real-life situations.

Phone coaching provides immediate support during times of distress, helping clients navigate challenging emotions, crises, and impulsive behaviors. By having access to their therapist through phone coaching, individuals can receive guidance and reinforcement in real-time, improving their ability to effectively implement the skills they have learned.

Consultation Team

The consultation team consists of the DBT therapists who are involved in providing treatment. They meet regularly to support each other, discuss client progress, and ensure treatment fidelity.

The consultation team meetings are crucial for therapists to receive supervision and guidance in implementing DBT effectively. It allows them to share insights, troubleshoot challenges, and enhance their skills in delivering comprehensive care. These meetings promote collaboration, consensus-building, and adherence to the principles of DBT, ultimately benefiting the clients receiving treatment.

By integrating these components, DBT provides a comprehensive and coordinated approach to mental health treatment. Individual therapy, skills training group, phone coaching, and consultation team meetings work together to ensure that clients receive consistent support, skills development, and guidance throughout their treatment journey. It is this holistic approach that makes DBT an effective and impactful treatment option for individuals seeking to manage their mental health challenges.

Exploring the Skills of DBT

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a comprehensive form of therapy that equips individuals with a range of skills to effectively manage their emotions, improve interpersonal relationships, and cultivate a sense of mindfulness. The skills taught in DBT are essential tools for individuals seeking to navigate their mental health challenges.


Mindfulness is a cornerstone skill in DBT, emphasizing the cultivation of a non-judgmental, present-focused awareness of thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It involves observing and accepting one's internal experiences without attempting to change or judge them.

By practicing mindfulness, individuals develop a deeper understanding of their triggers, emotions, and patterns of thinking. This heightened self-awareness allows for the development of effective coping strategies and fosters self-compassion and self-acceptance.

Distress Tolerance

Distress tolerance skills assist individuals in managing intense emotions and navigating distressing situations. These skills help individuals tolerate and cope with distress without resorting to impulsive or harmful behaviors. Techniques taught in DBT include self-soothing strategies, distraction techniques, and acceptance of the present moment. By developing distress tolerance skills, individuals are better equipped to navigate challenging emotions and maintain stability in the face of adversity.

Emotion Regulation

Emotion regulation skills are a vital component of DBT, teaching individuals how to understand, manage, and navigate their emotions effectively. This involves recognizing and labeling emotions, understanding the functions of different emotions, and developing strategies to modulate emotional responses.

Techniques such as problem-solving, cognitive restructuring, and self-care practices are taught to help individuals regulate and navigate their emotions in a healthy and adaptive manner. By honing emotion regulation skills, individuals can reduce impulsive behaviors and improve their overall emotional well-being.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

Interpersonal effectiveness skills focus on improving communication and relationship-building abilities. DBT equips individuals with tools to assert their needs, set boundaries, and navigate conflicts effectively.

Techniques such as assertiveness training, active listening, and empathy development are taught to enhance interpersonal interactions. By developing interpersonal effectiveness skills, individuals can cultivate more satisfying and supportive relationships, leading to improved overall well-being.

By exploring and practicing these skills, individuals undergoing DBT can gain valuable tools to navigate their mental health challenges effectively. These skills empower individuals to develop a greater sense of self-awareness, emotional stability, and healthier relationships. Incorporating mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness into daily life can contribute to long-term growth and well-being.

The Effectiveness of DBT

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) has gained recognition as an effective treatment for various mental health conditions, particularly in reducing self-harm behaviors, suicidal thoughts, and emotional dysregulation. Let's explore the research findings on DBT and the long-term impact it can have on individuals.

Research Findings on DBT

Numerous studies have demonstrated the efficacy of DBT in treating borderline personality disorder (BPD), a condition characterized by intense emotional instability and impulsive behaviors. Research conducted by the Cleveland Clinic has shown significant improvements in reducing suicidal behaviors, psychiatric hospitalization, anger, depression, and hopelessness among individuals with BPD who underwent DBT [5].

Moreover, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that DBT resulted in superior reductions in parasuicidal behavior (self-harming acts) compared to control conditions for individuals with BPD [6]. Another study revealed that DBT patients with BPD and substance use disorders experienced greater reductions in drug use and lower dropout rates compared to a control group [6].

Additionally, DBT has shown promise in reducing binge-eating and other eating-disordered behaviors, as well as reducing depression in elderly patients with a personality disorder. These findings highlight the broad applicability of DBT in addressing various mental health challenges.

Long-Term Impact of DBT

Qualitative research has provided valuable insights into the long-term impact of DBT beyond the scope of quantitative measures. Individuals who have completed DBT have reported positive outcomes, including perceiving it as a life-changing progression, developing self-efficacy, embracing acceptance of difficulties, and experiencing healthier and more meaningful relationships with others [7].

Moreover, participants in a study found that DBT had a positive impact on their lives in the years following the program, enabling further personal development, empowering them to manage setbacks and difficult situations, and contributing to overall well-being [7]. However, it's important to note that continued support and follow-up care are essential as participants in the study expressed the need for further support even after completing DBT.

Overall, the research findings indicate that DBT is an effective treatment approach for various mental health conditions, providing individuals with the tools to manage intense emotions, enhance interpersonal skills, and reduce self-destructive behaviors. It offers hope and long-term benefits for those seeking to tame the storm within and improve their overall well-being.

Accessing Dialectical Behavior Therapy

For individuals seeking dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), there are various options available for accessing this evidence-based treatment. Two important avenues to explore are online delivery of DBT and the age groups for which DBT is available.

Online Delivery of DBT

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) has been adapted for online delivery, providing an accessible option for individuals who may not have access to in-person therapy sessions [1]. Online DBT programs offer the flexibility of receiving therapy from the comfort of one's own home, eliminating geographical barriers and allowing individuals to access treatment at their convenience.

Through online platforms, individuals can engage in virtual therapy sessions, participate in skills training groups, and receive phone coaching. These online programs often incorporate interactive features, such as video conferencing and secure messaging, to facilitate communication between the therapist and the individual receiving treatment. Online DBT can be an effective alternative for those who prefer or require remote therapy options.

Age Groups and DBT Availability

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a valuable treatment option for various age groups. It is offered as a therapy treatment for adolescents aged 13-18, helping them develop skills to manage emotions, improve relationships, and cope with distressing situations.

Young adults within the age range of 18-30 can also access DBT as a therapy treatment. This age group often faces unique challenges and transitions, and DBT provides them with the tools to navigate these difficulties and enhance their emotional well-being.

Furthermore, dialectical behavior therapy is available for adults aged 30 and above. DBT offers support and strategies for managing emotions, developing interpersonal skills, and fostering personal growth in this age group, helping them lead more fulfilling lives.

It is important to note that DBT is not limited to specific age groups and can be adapted to suit individual needs. The availability of DBT across different age groups ensures that individuals of varying ages can access this effective treatment approach.

By exploring online delivery options and considering age-specific availability, individuals can find the most suitable pathway to access dialectical behavior therapy. Whether through virtual platforms or in-person sessions, DBT offers evidence-based techniques and guidance for individuals seeking to improve their emotional well-being and develop effective coping strategies.


[1]: https://docs.github.com/en/get-started/writing-on-github/working-with-advanced-formatting/creating-and-highlighting-code-blocks

[2]: https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/189920/what-is-the-3-x-backquote-markdown-used-for

[3]: https://positivepsychology.com/dbt-interventions/

[4]: https://www.grouporttherapy.com/blog/dbt-principles

[5]: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/22838-dialectical-behavior-therapy-dbt

[6]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2963469/

[7]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8885141/[8]: https://www.sandstonecare.com/blog/dbt-skills/

DBT for Teens at Kiwi Recovery

For teens who face mental health challenges, dialectical behavior therapy can be an important therapeutic tool. It can help teens understand that they do not have to be at the mercy of their emotions because they can control how they react and even change their emotional patterns. Kiwi Recovery offers dialectical behavior therapy as well as other cognitive-behavioral therapies for young adults and teens. No matter what challenges teens face, we can help them navigate the road to recovery. Call Kiwi Recovery today at 617.545.3344 or reach out to us online to hear more about dialectical behavior therapy.