How Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Can Be a Game-Changer for Your Teen

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

How Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Can Be a Game-Changer for Your Teen

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a type of evidence-based talk therapy for individuals who experience emotions very intensely. It’s based on Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a talk therapy that can help you manage your problems by identifying and challenging negative thought patterns to eventually replace these patterns or behaviors with healthier, helpful ones. DBT works well for children, teenagers, and young adults who experience significant trouble managing their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

“Dialectical” means integrating seemingly opposite ideas or acting through opposing forces. DBT focuses on helping people accept the reality of their lives and their behaviors, in order to help them learn to change their lives and leave unhelpful behaviors behind. Dialectical thinking is a way for teens to learn to see things from multiple perspectives, which helps diffuse the catastrophic thinking that arises in response to perceived threats.

DBT focuses on validating and accepting one’s emotions, thoughts, and experiences. Recognition is the first step to interrupting negative cycles. As teens become increasingly aware of negative thought patterns, they’re more likely to independently identify them and acknowledge them for what they are: thoughts rather than reality. This is one example of how DBT works to identify and eventually address unhealthy thought patterns that lead to impulsive behavior.

In order to more effectively manage intense emotions that can lead to impulsive decision-making and problematic behaviors, those participating in DBT learn four core principles: distress tolerance, emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and mindfulness—along with new problem-solving skills. Through DBT, individuals are able to build a tolerance to previously stressful or overwhelming situations, successfully manage their high and low emotions, learn to speak their needs and communicate effectively with others, and live life in the present moment. When these skills are combined, sensitive and emotionally reactive children, teenagers, and young adults have the tools to respond flexibly to difficult and stressful life experiences and/or social interactions.

This approach has helped children, teenagers, and young adults who struggle with any or all of the following:

  • Impulsive/disruptive behaviors
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Self-harm and suicidal behaviors
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Family and peer conflict
  • Anger outbursts
  • Eating disordered behaviors
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Poor coping skill


The reason DBT has proved effective for treating these conditions is that each of these conditions is thought to be associated with issues arising from unhealthy or problematic efforts to control intense, negative emotions. Rather than depending on unhealthy coping mechanisms that cause problems for the person, DBT helps people learn healthier ways to manage unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.

At ViewPoint Center, teens are introduced to DBT in a group setting and in other aspects of the program by trained DBT professionals. They learn meaningful coping skills and how to use DBT skills to overcome problems. This helps to better equip patients to face life’s challenges, now and in the future.