All About DBT for Adolescents

By Mia Drury, BA

Growing up isn’t easy! Our teenage years can be especially challenging as we navigate big emotions, formative experiences, and family and peer relationships. Since adolescence is such a unique period in our lives, it is vital for therapy to be targeted towards the specific needs of teens. 

This is where DBT-A (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy for adolescents) comes into play! Center for Anxiety offers both individual and group DBT-A. To better understand this type of therapy, I spoke with several of our clinicians who specialize in treating teens. 

What is DBT-A?

Abbey McClemont, EdM, explains that “DBT-A is the adolescent version of the DBT. The skills taught in DBT-A are specific to teenagers and the common experiences they face during those unique, formative years.” Lisa Chimes, PsyD, adds that it aims to help teens “cope with emotions, handle conflicts with friends and family, and navigate the challenges of growing up”. 

How does DBT-A compare to adult DBT?

DBT-A covers the same topics as adult DBT – Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance. However, the skills are modified to be, as McClemont shares, “relatable to adolescents and the day-to-day experiences they have at school and outside of school.”

DBT-A includes an additional focus on Walking the Middle Path, which includes parents and caregivers in the treatment process. According to Vanvian Hoo, PsyD, this module “deals and addresses family conflict and dynamics. Walking the Middle Path allows for parents and kids to find understanding and balance in their opposing views and reach a resolution or compromise.” 

Thanos Nioplias, LMHC adds that DBT-A focuses on “increasing communication and closeness within the family system”. These goals can be accomplished through parent coaching, as well as joint sessions with parents and teens. 

What life situations or challenges can DBT-A help with for adolescents?

DBT-A offers skills for a range of experiences that teens might face. Liz Ward, LCSW explains that it can help teens “learn to cope with emotions, handle conflicts with family and friends, and navigate the challenges of growing up.”

Niopilas adds that some of these challenges might include “pervasive negative emotions such as anxiety, sadness, and anger.” Hoo further shares that DBT-A can help address ”suicidal behavior, self-injurious behaviors, substance use, disordered eating, school avoidance and lack of self-awareness of emotions, goals and values.” 

How does Center for Anxiety’s adolescent program support teen mental health?

Center for Anxiety offers weekly DBT-A groups. In these groups, Hoo explains, the “DBTA curriculum is infused with creative ways to present the content in addition to fun activities to engage group members and enhance their learning experience”.  

The skills that teens learn in groups are further developed through individual and family sessions which, as Chimes explains, offer a tailored focus on issues such as  “identity development, peer relationships, and family dynamics.”

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