How DBT Helps Teenagers Improve Their Moods
By Jeanette Lorandini
All teens experience mood swings. It’s one of the defining characteristics of that age. However, some teens struggle more when it comes to mood than their peers.
This struggle is more than typical teenage moodiness. Teens may feel sad, depressed, or even angry.
Therapy can help with these issues, especially dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT. DBT is a therapeutic process that goes beyond merely talking about feelings.
Instead, it utilizes four key components that help teens to cope with these emotions positively. Here’s how DBT helps teenagers to improve their moods and, at the same time, be more emotionally independent.
Teaching Mindfulness to Teens
If you begin talking about mindfulness to a teen, you might expect to receive an eye-roll in return. To a teenager, mindfulness might sound like something where you should be meditating all day at an ashram retreat — but it’s nothing of the sort.
Although meditation can be part of mindfulness, it’s really about creating a greater sense of awareness. This awareness includes both yourself and the surroundings around you. That’s important because teens are notorious for not being very attentive to what’s happening around them!
Teens can practice mindfulness in many ways, including:
- Practicing deep breathing exercises
- Sitting still in once place
- Observing small sections of the ground for details (part of a back yard, a grassy field, the forest floor)
- Acknowledging your thoughts but then letting them drift away
One critical part of this process is setting aside the cell phone to be free from distractions.
Developing Emotional Regulation
Next, DBT teaches teens how to control their emotions better. Note that there is a difference between controlling emotions and not feeling them. We don’t want teens not to experience a feeling. Simultaneously, we don’t want those emotions overwhelming them to the point where a teen doesn’t feel in control.
One vital aspect of emotional regulation is accurately identifying the emotion. For example, a teen might say, “I’m so angry!” Yet, anger is vague and is secondary to much deeper emotions, such as fear. By identifying emotions, teens will feel more in control of themselves and able to manage emotions better.
Promoting Distress Tolerance
Distress tolerance is what you do when the emotions are so great that you need to do something at the moment to cope with them. For example:
- Deep breathing
- Distraction techniques
- Visualization exercises
- Staying positive
- Taking time out
Teens should practice these skills before they are needed. However, by having a toolbox of skills that they can use to manage stress, teens will feel more empowered and independent, which they crave.
Encouraging Interpersonal Effectiveness
The final component of DBT is interpersonal effectiveness. As you might imagine, this part is being useful in communicating and interacting with other people. Interpersonal effectiveness is significant because teens need to develop this skill, especially when it comes to relationships.
Suppose your teen is upset because they have a challenging homework assignment. They might come home and say that the teacher is “stupid.” However, what they honestly feel is anxiety.
DBT can help teens communicate more effectively what they feel to describe what’s happening and what they are feeling accurately. This approach lets them access resources (such as parent support) to cope with the situation.
Teens will always experience a wide range of emotions and moods. However, they don’t have to let those moods negatively impact their lives. By accessing DBT, teens will learn how not just how to self-soothe and manage emotions. They will be able to thrive in those difficult moments and accurately describe both what happened and what they are feeling.
If you have a teen in your life struggling with mood issues, reach out to me for support and learn more about how DBT can help.
Click here for more information about teen counseling.