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What Can Adolescents Gain From DBT?

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 >

Dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT for short, is a form of therapy that parents of teens dealing with substance abuse or mental health issues need to know about. The skills DBT teaches a teen can radically transform their ability to live a fulfilling life unhindered by mental health issues or addiction.

So, what can teens gain from DBT? There are countless benefits to this type of therapy, including increased resilience, healthier relationships, more emotional control, and much more. We’re here to walk you through DBT skills for teens and how they can help your adolescent grow and thrive.

What Are DBT Goals and Benefits for Adolescents?

The DBT goals and benefits for teens include: 

  • Gaining a better understanding of emotions and thoughts
  • Improving relationships
  • Learning essential life skills and coping strategies
  • Improving mental health

In the sections below, we will outline each of these primary goals and benefits and explain how they can impact your teenager.

Gain a Better Understanding of Emotions and Thoughts

One of the primary DBT goals is to give teens deeper awareness of how they feel and think. DBT mindfulness, one of the key parts of the treatment model, helps immensely with increasing a teen’s self-awareness.

An example of a DBT mindfulness skill is observation. With observation, a therapist asks a teen to simply focus on their situation and be mindful of any thoughts, feelings, or physical sensations that arise in response to it. 

Another example of a DBT mindfulness skill is describing. With this skill, a teen can succinctly articulate their feelings, thoughts, and sensations without being overwhelmed by them.

Improve Relationships

Improving a teen’s relationship is another one of the major DBT goals. This aspect of DBT focuses on setting healthy boundaries, identifying problematic social behaviors, and learning to respect oneself.

DBT skills that improve relationships include the following example: 

    • The DEAR MAN Skill: 
      • Describe the situation you’re in without being influenced by emotions
      • Express your feelings about the situation you’re in to another person
      • Assert your feelings by asking for something or responding to something someone else wants
      • Reinforce your response by clarifying the positive effects of getting what you need or the negative effects of not getting what you need
      • Mindfully focus on the goal that you are trying to achieve. 
      • Appear competent and confident to the person who you are asking or responding to
      • Negotiate if necessary to get results that work for you and the other person.

Acronyms like this one are used in many aspects of DBT. They outline the steps a teen can take outside of therapy to use the skills they’ve learned from their counselor.

Learn Essential Life Skills and Coping Strategies

DBT skills are meant to help teens build the resilience they need to stay addiction-free, mentally healthy, and healthy overall. Many techniques, such as DBT radical acceptance and DBT mindfulness, help teens independently navigate life without being held back by overwhelming emotions.

Improve Mental Health

Another primary DBT goal is improving a teen’s overall mental health. The emotions that DBT targets are often crippling and take a major toll on a teen’s quality of life. Addressing these emotions and teaching the skills to monitor and control them is a major part of DBT.

DBT Skills for Teens

DBT skills for teens include mindfulness, emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance. These four primary skills are at the heart of all dialectical behavior therapy.

What Are the Six Main Points of Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

What are the six main points of dialectical behavior therapy? At Evolve Treatment, we identify these points as:

  • Acceptance and Change
  • Behavioral 
  • Cognitive
  • Skill Sets
  • Collaboration 
  • Support

Acceptance & Change

This aspect of DBT involves a teen accepting their circumstances as they are and believing that positive change is possible. This first point lays the groundwork for the aspects of DBT that follow.


According to the DBT philosophy, problematic behaviors need to be addressed before moving forward in treatment. Self-destructiveness, unhealthy methods of coping, and self-sabotaging relational habits are all addressed by DBT and replaced with healthy habits.


DBT seeks to address the problematic thought patterns that are often hard for teens to control and are coupled with troubling emotions. DBT skills like mindfulness encourage a teen to pause, assess their thoughts, and move forward without being overwhelmed by emotions or irrational thinking. 

Skill Sets

Next, DBT equips teens with the skills listed above: mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and emotion regulation. These skills help a teen grow in independence and health socially, cognitively, and emotionally.


Next, DBT seeks to help teens connect with and collaborate with others with an emphasis on interpersonal skills. In DBT treatment, teens are encouraged to develop respect for themselves and others and learn to form constructive, collaborative relationships. 

Within the DBT framework, the skill of learning boundaries is paramount in collaboration. DBT therapists seek to help teens communicate their boundaries to others in order to facilitate better relationships.


Finally, DBT provides teens with a support system that they can turn to after treatment. The DBT philosophy acknowledges that recovery isn’t a linear or overnight process. That’s why DBT provides long-term support with its unique set of skills. 

The DBT skills are meant to be used by teens independently after treatment ends. Skills like mindfulness and distress tolerance can be used without a therapist guiding a teen through the steps — once that teen has had the practice they need during therapy. 

The goal of DBT for teens is to equip them with practical skills that they can use in their daily lives whenever overwhelming emotions threaten to take them down self-destructive paths. With time and practice, these skills can become integral parts of a teen’s everyday life and personal support system.

If you’re looking for help for your teen, consider Evolve Treatment’s DBT programs. We’re here to help you figure out which program is best for your teen; call us at 1-833-487-0852 today for a free consultation.

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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