DBT for Adolescents (DBT-A) is a skills-based programme with growing empirical evidence that has been found effective in supporting teenagers and young people with difficulties related to emotion dysregulation, self-harm and suicidality, as well as other problematic and impulsive behaviours. DBT-A involves individual therapy and group skills training. Other components include phone consultation (patients are encouraged to call their therapists when they feel the urge to self-harm) and consultation team meetings.

What problems does DBT-A treat?

DBT-A addresses five major problem areas through a variety of treatment modes and specific skills. These five areas include:

  • Unawareness of emotions, dissociation and feelings of emptiness,
  • Emotion dysregulation and angry outbursts,
  • Impulsivity (self-harm, aggression, substance misuse and suicidal threats/actions)
  • Interpersonal problems (unstable relationships, interpersonal conflict, social isolation, loss)
  • Parent-teen Dilemmas (poor problem solving, rigid thinking, poor communication)

What skills does DBT-A teach?

DBT-A skills training is structured and it consists of five modules which are completed over 16 weeks:

  • Mindfulness skills are designed to teach you how to increase your awareness levels, decrease reactivity and judgmentalness, focus better, be present in the moment, accept current moment experiences and understand the signs of unregulated emotions.
  • Emotion regulation skills will support you in coping with difficult situations by building pleasant, self-soothing experiences to protect from emotional extremes. There’s a big focus on the physical body and its importance when it comes to reducing vulnerabilities. This module also involves learning to recognise and label current emotions, increase positive emotions, and change emotions that are unhelpful or unwarranted.
  • Interpersonal effectiveness skills have the purpose of teaching you how to interact more effectively with others, and enable you to feel more supported. It also teaches communication strategies for maintaining balanced relationships.
  • Distress tolerance skills will enable you to recognise urges to do things that would be ineffective, such as hurting yourself, acting on suicidal urges or engaging in conflict and consciously controlling them. You will learn ways to survive and tolerate difficult moments without making things worse.
  • Walking the middle path skills will teach teenagers and their parents how to avoid taking extreme positions and instead acknowledge the validity of different perspectives and others’ opinions, and how to compromise and negotiate rather than get locked in conflict.