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Comprehensive DBT vs. DBT-Informed Teen Rehab Centers

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

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There are many rehab centers that offer Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) treatment for teens. But you may notice that some treatment centers specify that they are “comprehensive,” while others note that they are “DBT-informed.” What’s the difference?

When Dr. Marsha Linehan developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy in the 1980s, she delineated four components of treatment. These four treatment delivery requirements were originally meant to be implemented in the standard outpatient setting. However, since then, many residential treatment centers and intensive outpatients have adapted them to fit the needs and constraints of their specific settings, and have usually received formal training to do so. (At Behavioral Tech, the premier DBT training institute for clinicians, this training requires weeks of intense coaching and instruction.)

A DBT-comprehensive teen rehab center needs to include all four of the standard treatment components. A DBT-informed program includes only one, two, or three from the list:

Individual therapy 

The teen rehabilitation center offers weekly individual (and family) DBT therapy sessions. In these 1:1 sessions, your teen’s primary therapist will use Dialectical Behavior Therapy as the main (or exclusive) therapeutic modality. In between sessions, the therapist will instruct your teen to track their own emotions and behavior (for example, using Daily Diary Cards).

Skills training

The teen treatment center offers DBT skills-training groups. In these classes, your teen will learn the five core skills modules of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy curriculum together with peers. Each group session focuses on one of the five modules. After each session, the facilitator will give homework. This homework usually consists of practicing and applying a certain DBT skill independently before the next class.

Skills coaching

The teen rehab center offers DBT skills-coaching between sessions. When your teen needs immediate help, they can contact their therapist at any given time of night or day and receive relatively instant coaching. This is beneficial when your teen is having an urge to engage in negative behaviors or needs help implementing a coping skill. The coaching may include instructing your child to problem-solve using a Chain Analysis, a major DBT tool.)

Therapists’ consultation teams

Every week, all DBT-trained staff who treat your child meet to evaluate their treatment administration and your teen’s progress. The primary goals of the Consultation Team are to enhance the motivation and capabilities of the DBT providers. Dialectical Behavior Therapy believes that the relationship between therapist and patient is an equal one. Therapists practice DBT skills in their own lives so they are able to authentically model them for the teens they are treating.

DBT-Informed Teen Treatment Centers

Not all teen rehab DBT centers offer all four components of “comprehensive DBT.” Many DBT residential treatment programs (RTC), intensive outpatients (IOP) and partial hospitalization programs (PHP) are actually DBT-informed programs, meaning they utilize only one, two, or three aspects of DBT. Typically, these programs choose to include the skills-training groups component.  Research has shown that even DBT skills-groups by itself has been shown to reduce patients’ suicidality, self-harming behavior, depression, and anxiety.

It is important to keep in mind that every DBT program is unique. Every teen is unique. No one rehab center can claim to be “the best” for “every” teen. For example, a comprehensive DBT program may not be appropriate for all teens. Other patients may require a different therapy approach altogether. Others may benefit from a more flexible DBT-informed program that offers DBT skills-groups in addition to other therapeutic modalities. All DBT programs, however, aim to do the same thing. They help struggling teens overcome their negative, ineffective actions and thoughts in order to create “lives worth living.”

You may also like to read about DBT: 20 Ways for Teens to De-Stress and Keep Calm On-the-Go

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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