Monday, September 13, 2010

Helping Your Teen Through Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Many of us know, or remember from our own teen years, that being a teenager isn’t easy.  Developmentally, adolescence is a time of growing independence, developing a sense of self, learning to navigate social relationships, and increasing responsibility.  On top of these developmental tasks, teens face pressures from school, peers and family responsibilities.  Teens can be under a significant amount of stress and that requires them to find ways to cope.  

Some teens may lack adequate coping skills, which leads to trying to cope with their stress in unhealthy, even harmful ways.  For example, they may have difficulties with self-injurious and life-threatening behaviors, suicidal ideation, poor impulse control, running away, stealing, lying, low frustration tolerance, interpersonal conflict, poor sense of self, high-risk sexualized behaviors, disordered eating, and substance abuse.  

However, the problems that teens face can be successfully navigated if they have healthy coping skills and support from caring adults.  Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a form of therapy that has been widely researched for approximately 30 years.  It has proven to be effective in helping teens to reduce risky behaviors, manage emotions more effectively, create a more balanced life, and improve the overall quality of life.

What coping skills can DBT teach your teen?  DBT focuses on skills in five main areas:

1)    Mindfulness: Learning how to be focused in the present moment, how to balance emotions with rational thought and how to do what is effective in the moment.

2)    Distress Tolerance: Developing skills to help teens cope with stress in healthy ways through distraction, self-soothing and looking at the pros versus cons of choices in each situation.

3)    Emotion Regulation: Helping teens better understand emotions, reduce the intensity of their emotions, and learn how to ride the wave of emotions without acting out on them.

4)    Interpersonal Effectiveness: Developing strong relationship skills, learning how to communicate and listen in a way that is respectful towards others and themselves, learning how to say no, how to deal with difficult people and how to repair relationships.

5)    Walking the Middle Path: Learning how to validate one’s self and others, how to find the kernel of truth in different points of view, create a more balanced way of thinking and living, and how to reinforce behaviors in both self and others.

Learning effective, healthy coping skills now can benefit teens in their present life and in the future.

Dr. Amanda McGough is a psychologist at Southeast Psych who specializes in using DBT.