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How Family Involvement in DBT Can Improve Outcomes

If there’s a stain on your coworker’s shirt, you might discreetly try to tell them, “Hey, I think there’s something on your shirt.” Or, you might not tell them at all.

If there’s a stain on your brother’s shirt, though, you might use it as an opportunity to knock him down a few pegs. It might come out sounding more direct, like “Hey, doofus. Your shirt is dirty.”

After all, he’s your brother! You’ve known him forever, so strong words don’t matter as much, right? When it comes to the family we see every day, we tend to brush off some of society’s niceties in the name of intimacy or efficiency.

For people struggling with their mental health though, it’s nice to be reminded that your family is on your side. That’s why you should consider incorporating family into your DBT treatment.

What Does Family DBT Look Like?

Family DBT is similar to regular DBT in that it focuses on developing interpersonal effectiveness skills, emotion regulation skills, and distress tolerance skills. The difference is that the family learns the same skills as you are while you’re developing them.

All skills are still based in mindfulness, or the awareness of one’s own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It’s helpful for families to practice mindfulness so they can manage how their internal motivators affect you and your behavior.

No family is perfect. Living within a larger community of people with different expectations and life experiences will naturally produce some stress. Anxiety, anger, and regret can spread like wildfire in families and influence everyone’s ability to live a satisfying life.

Because of this, Family DBT asks everyone to bring their best foot forward in supporting the family member in focus. As a result, your family may find that you aren’t the only one benefiting from counseling.

How It Works As An Add-On Therapy

Family DBT doesn’t have to take over individual therapy; it can be added on in one-off sessions as needed. Counselors can also provide DBT Parenting Coach to help parents understand how they can best support their child.

DBT counselors give us the tools and structures necessary to dig deeper internally, learn more about our most authentic self, and lead a more fulfilling life. What caregivers can add to the equation is a real-world coach.

Your family holds each other accountable by reinforcing effective behaviors discussed in DBT as they happen in the real world. Healing with a group in this way allows DBT to feel more holistic and achievable.

What This Means For You

When family joins in, they’re signalling that they truly care about improving your mental health and personal growth. It also shows they’re willing to be vulnerable. In sessions, they may be asked to admit the times where they’ve also needed help, share tips that helped them, and more than anything, show that you’re not alone in your problems.

Families will learn skills in effective communication, crisis management, and how to address their own emotional needs first. Overall, Family DBT provides a sense of relief that while one family member is going through a rough patch, the others can help by meeting their own needs first.

What Improvement Have We Seen?

A Canadian Institutes of Health Research study showed improvement in a variety of factors, including…

  • Caregiver Burden
  • Parenting Stress
  • Child Behavioral Concerns
  • Client Mastery of Skills
  • Client Coping

Peer facilitation for family members has also shown to increase the benefits of emotional support, feelings of acceptance, increased care giving satisfaction, and empowerment.

If leaving therapy feels like entering a battle of you vs. the world outside, it could be time to seek additional support by merging your family and your treatment. Schedule an appointment with one of our counselors to try Family DBT today.



Suffolk DBT proudly provides quality dialectical behavior therapy, a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, at their offices in Manhattan and Long Island, New York and online. Their experienced therapists specialize in serving teens, children, adults, and college students struggling with depression, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, and self-harm. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills and treatment can help you or your kids to manage emotions and work through life’s challenges.

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