Treating Your Teen With Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Life with a teenager is never easy. There’s something about getting into those teen years that is guaranteed to come with a bad attitude, a sense of entitlement and many, many arguments. For those behavioral issues that go beyond typical teenage angst, it can be hard to know how to get started or who to turn to for help.

Could dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, be a good option to help your troubled teenager?

What Is DBT?

Dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, is a form of therapy that was first designed to help individuals with borderline personality disorder but has since been found to be an extremely effective treatment for a variety of other mental health diagnoses. It consists of both group and individual therapy, as well as phone coaching to help the individual get through difficult or triggering situations in daily life.

DBT is based around the patient learning four skills — mindfulness, stress and distress tolerance, interpersonal skills and emotional regulation. Here is the breakdown of each skill:

  • Mindfulness is a popular buzzword for thinking and meditation that focuses on being in the moment. Instead of worrying about the future or the past, you simply focus on the moment that you’re in.
  • Distress tolerance, as its name suggests, is training to help you and/or your teen to handle stress in everyday situations. These skills can be applied to most situations you might come across.
  • Interpersonal skills are not just focused on how you handle social situations but how you handle interpersonal conflict. This skill set focuses on problem solving skills and teaching you better ways to handle conflict that you might encounter in your daily life.
  • Emotional regulation is probably the trickiest skill. Hormonal teens and people with mental health disorders all tend to be fiercely emotional people. Learning how to regulate those emotions is an essential tool in DBT.

These four skills, when paired with regular therapy, can be an extremely effective treatment for children, teens and adults alike.

When Does Troubled = Problem?

We all know just how — challenging — teenagers can be. We were those problematic sacks of hormones at one point, after all, and those memories aren’t so distant that we’ve forgotten the kind of trouble we caused.

The trick is learning the difference between the typical hormonal teen behavior and what could be considered troubled and in need of intervention. Anything from changes in school performance and behavior to threats of self-harm or suicide could be an indicator that your teen may need further help.

The first trick is to just talk to your teens. This might be harder than it sounds — no one wants to talk to mom and dad, right? It’s almost easier if you start when they’re young by establishing an open-door policy and letting them know they can talk to you about anything at any time. The conversations might be a little bit awkward, but, if it means your teens feel comfortable talking to you, it’s entirely worth the awkwardness.

Not Just Treating the Patient

While DBT is traditionally used to treat an individual, many therapists choose to treat both the teen and their family at the same time. Not only does the teen learn the coping skills they need to succeed in the real world, the parents learn the skills they need to help their child and cope with their changing behavior.

You want your teen to change and get better, but to do that you have to be willing to change a little bit yourself. That might be the hardest part of Dialectical Behavior Therapy — being willing to change to help

Whether your teen has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder or any of the other mental illnesses that can benefit from DBT, you will need to learn the same techniques they are studying to be in the best position to help them through the challenges that lie ahead.

Love Is the Most Important Part

When it comes down to it, we all love our kids — even if they’re hormonal and in need of some help. It’s not easy to admit our kids might need resources that are beyond us, but it’s our responsibility to make sure that they get it, even if they’re not comfortable asking for help.

Being a parent in today’s world isn’t easy. There are more things to worry about than scraped knees and broken hearts — there are some very scary things in this world that threaten and influence our children and teenagers.

No matter what the world throws at you or your kids, remember that love is the most important part of it all. Above all else — slather your kids with affection. It might not make everything fall into place, but it is the foundation for everything.


Teens will be teens, no matter what we try to do — they’re combative, rebellious and will do whatever they can to push their boundaries. That’s just part of growing up. When that behavior changes to the point that it becomes dangerous to themselves or the people around them, it’s up to you to step in and let them know the help they need is available whenever they need it.

If it comes down to it, it may be up to you to seek out an inpatient treatment facility on behalf of your child.

Raising kids is not an easy task, and anyone who does it and gets their kids out into the world in one piece has accomplished a worthy achievement. If your teens are acting like teens, just be there for them. If your teens start needing some extra help, dialectical behavioral therapy can be a useful tool to help you connect with your teenager and help them get the help they need.

About Jennifer Landis

Jennifer is a TiP Team author, writer, blogger, foodie, yogi, runner, and mama. She loves drinking tea, deadlifts, and dark chocolate. You can find more from Jennifer at her blog, Mindfulness Mama, or on Twitter @JenniferELandis

1 comment on “Treating Your Teen With Dialectical Behavior Therapy

  1. DBT sounds like a great program where parents and teenagers can learn “together”, which I believe is utmost important. Teens need to learn how to cope with the environment around them, realizing what is and is not in their control and this programs sounds very beneficial for them. Thanks for sharing this Jennifer!

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