Applying DBT to an Adolescent Population

DBT has increasingly been applied successfully to different populations. What are some factors to consider when working with adolescents within a DBT framework?

Adolescence is a time of great change, which includes physical, neurological and emotional changes, as an individual traverses the phase which is an important precursor to adulthood, and negotiates questions of identity. Prominent psychologist Erik Erikson (1904 - 1992) suggested that adolescence is characterised by a core conflict he called identity versus role confusion. He suggested the adolescents move between poles of feelings secure in who they are, and trying on different roles, values, and versions of self, before arriving at an integrated and comfortable sense of self.

Adolescence is typically the time when individuals who are at risk of mental distress may begin to have difficulties with self-harming behaviours. Adolescents who have experienced significant trauma or emotional disruption may struggle with mentalisation, implying that formulating and expressing mental states, including emotions, becomes difficult. Adolescents, who may be flooded by powerful emotional states, may struggle to express these in a healthy manner, and could be at risk of acting on these overwhelming emotions in impulsive, self-harming ways. Young people who have engaged in self-harming or suicidal behaviours often present for psychological help, as their behaviours have shown evidence of underlying emotional distress. We asked clinical psychologist and DBT practitioner Dr. Ella Brent to reflect on any particular considerations when applying DBT to an adolescent population:


If you're interested in equipping yourself with core theoretical concepts around DBT, watch Ella's full video here.

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