DBT: A Successful Teen Bipolar Disorder Treatment

DBT: A Successful Teen Bipolar Disorder Treatment

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is form of talk therapy, similar to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which has had so much success among adults with Borderline Personality Disorder that it has recently been used to treat teens with this disorder.

Teen Bipolar Personality Disorder is characterized the swing of moods between mania and depression. Euphoria, elation, racing thoughts, irritability, and substance use are common symptoms of mania. Some teenagers will also engage in other forms of self-harm, such as cutting or risky behavior as a way to take away their emotional pain and accelerate the highs. When feeling low or depressed, the symptoms of depression to look for are decreased energy, insomnia, fatigue, agitation, and suicidal thoughts.

Adolescents with Borderline Personality Disorder tend to display the following patterns:

  • Avoiding real or imagined abandonment resulting from a belief in unworthiness or self-rejection
  • Having relationships that are unstable with significant idealization or devaluing
  • An inability to maintain a stable sense of self, with tendencies of self-loathing, self-hatred, and an inability to be who they are among friends.
  • Dangerous and impulsive behavior, such as drug use, frequent experiences of unsafe sex, or running away from home
  • Self-harming behavior, such as cutting
  • Mood swings from depressive symptoms to those of mania.
  • Chronically feeling empty, lonely, or bored and often compensated by impulsivity and dangerous behavior
  • Inability to regulate feelings of anger
  • Signs of dissociation with reality

DBT, however, is a successful treatment method, originally developed by Marsha Linehan, PhD, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington.  Historically, Borderline Personality Disorder was seen as a diagnosis that was difficult to treat effectively. However, DBT has had considerable successes. It was developed to treat the more severe, self-debilitating, and suicidal behaviors of Borderline Personality Disorder.

DBT is a form of behavioral therapy that teaches adolescents the skills they need to move closer to their life goals and assists them in integrating those skills into everyday life. The therapy is a compassionate form of treatment method that brings meaning and purpose into a teen’s life. The many dysfunctional symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder make it difficult for a teen to function normally in school, home, and work. DBT is meant to address those issues by teaching skills to cope with them and replace the self-defeating, dysfunctional coping mechanisms.

An adolescent would participate in DBT in both individual therapy as well as group therapy. However, one significant aspect of this treatment method is to participate in a 16-week Skills group, which is the venue for learning the necessary life skills that make DBT so effective. The Skills Group typically meets for 90 minutes once per week, while individual therapy or group therapy can take place once to twice per week, focusing on sharpening skills and integrating them into daily life.

DBT can help a teen with understanding and managing overwhelming emotions, learning more about oneself and thinking patterns, dealing with difficult people in life – including parents, learning more effective ways of coping with stress, and improving relationships.

Research indicates that those participating in DBT were half as likely to make a suicide attempt and required fewer hospitalizations. They were also less likely to drop out of treatment. DBT has been successful for many years. Like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, it has been proven to be effective and is considered to be what’s called an “evidence-based” treatment method, meaning that evidence exists for its effectiveness in treatment.

If you are a caregiver or parent of a teen with Borderline Personality Disorder, you might want to consider DBT as a treatment method for your child.

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