Historically, psychologists have said that adolescence is a tumultuous time. Thanks to neuropsychiatry and research, we now know that the adolescent brain undergoes extensive changes and growth from the onset of puberty until about age twenty-five. Some children and teens are more biologically prone to emotional sensitivity. This means they experience their emotions more intensely, more frequently and for longer periods of time than many of their peers. Research suggests DBT can be effective in treating adolescents.
In 2007, Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., Alec Miller, Psy. D. and Jill Rathus, Ph.D. published their research in Treating Suicidal Adolescents Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy. (Guildford Press) Their comprehensive protocol for treating adolescents is the model by which Westside DBT clinicians apply DBT for this population.
How this works at Westside DBT
Adolescents in our DBT program will attend individual therapy sessions weekly and are asked to actively attend weekly group skills training. Group leaders will teach the 5 modules of DBT in skills training group, one at a time: Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance and "Walking the Middle Path".
DBT groups are similar to taking a class, there are two skills "trainers"/therapists and often have 4-6 clients in the room, each adolescent is provided with a notebook and participation in listening, taking notes and here and now skill based discussion is modeled and expected.
Skills training is provided in both individual and group sessions. Group is designed to teach clients the skills they need to decrease impulsive behaviors and increase emotion regulation in a safe non-judmental environment, and individual therapy sessions are designed to help the clients further apply these skills in their day-to-day life, as well as become aware of what is getting in their way of managing their emotions, relationships and overall quality of life. "Coaching calls" to their individual and group therapist in between sessions is encouraged as a way to generalize skills while they are at home and or school.
The involvement of parents and guardians when working with adolescents is very important. When parents learn the skills their children/teens are learning, parents can potentially model these skills at home, in the day to day life experiences and also use the skills to facilitate their own coping. Research shows family involvement can also be an important aspect of treatment compliance. Ideally in a DBT adolescent program and here at WESTSIDE DBT, therapists will offer skills training groups for family members, either in conjunction with the adolescent’s skills training, separately or some combination of both. In addition, individual family training can be implemented as needed, as can between-session phone coaching for the parents as well as the adolescent. At the very least, support from family members is crucial to DBT’s effectiveness with adolescents.