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How Effective Is DBT for Depression in Teens?

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

DBT for depression is a common treatment method that has shown promise with teens. Short for dialectical behavior therapy, DBT is used to treat a wide range of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, in people of all ages. If you’re a struggling teenager or the parent of a teen dealing with depression, you need to know about DBT and its benefits. 

Here’s what you need to know about DBT for depression in teens, how effective it is, and where to look for treatment.

How DBT Works

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a unique form of talk therapy. A residential DBT program is intended to help people deal with extremely intense emotions. This type of therapy is often used for individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD), but it’s also proven beneficial for anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideation. 

DBT for suicidal ideation, depression, or anxiety works to help a person understand how their thoughts effect their emotions and how they act. After identifying the thought patterns that cause problems for a client, a therapist helps the client develop DBT emotion regulation skills. DBT skills for depression can help teens cope with their depression in healthy, constructive ways rather than through self-destructive habits.

Benefits of DBT for Depression

DBT is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which has long been used to treat depression. However, there are several key distinctions between CBT and DBT — namely the unique benefits that DBT offers.

There are several major benefits of DBT for depression, including:

  • DBT can help teens learn how to accept their uncomfortable thoughts instead of trying to fight against them; DBT helps teens recognize that these thoughts are only thoughts.
  • DBT makes the experience of depression easier to handle by separating it from behaviors and emotions. Through the lens of DBT, depression is just a pattern of problematic thoughts, not a character-defining issue that should hold someone down.

DBT also helps patients separate healthy behaviors from unhealthy, self-destructive behaviors. This form of treatment has shown significant results in teens dealing with self-harm and suicidal ideation as well as depression.

DBT Skills for Depression

The following are essential DBT skills for depression:

  • DBT teaches mindfulness, which can help a teenager live in the present moment rather than the past or future.
  • DBT teaches distress tolerance, which helps teens develop practical skills that help them handle triggering situations. These skills can include relaxation techniques, healthy distraction, and more.
  • Emotional regulation is another key DBT skill. This DBT skill helps teens encounter the emotions associated with their depression without being overwhelmed by them. 
  • Interpersonal effectiveness is another DBT skill that can help teens with depression. This skill helps teens navigate their social situations without being controlled by their depression.

What Is the Success Rate of DBT for Depression?

DBT has been found to be very effective in treating depression in teens. However, there is more robust research on DBT’s efficacy in treatment for borderline personality disorder (BPD) than for depression.

While more research is needed to determine the qualitative effectiveness of this therapeutic technique, it’s already clear that dialectical behavior therapy for suicidal adolescent patients, as well as those with depression, can make a major difference. 

Finding a DBT Program for Your Teen

DBT can make a major difference in a struggling teen’s life by helping them regulate the intense emotions that come alongside depression. 

If you’re looking for help for your teen, consider our Residential DBT Program for adolescents with depression. To learn more, call us at 1-833-487-0852 for a free consultation. We’re here to provide any additional information you need about DBT, as well as our additional treatment programs.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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