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How to Start Using DBT Therapy

We all go through stressful or upsetting situations in life. Some moments make you want to scream, but you know that screaming will only make the situation worse. In times like these, it’s important to know how to regulate your emotions and calm yourself back down.

For teens with mental health problems like Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), calming down can be more difficult than usual. Teens who struggle with emotional outbursts need to learn how to address their emotions before they take over. If you are the parent of a teenager who has a tough time regulating their emotions, it can be helpful to start using DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) at home.

Many teens, tweens, and adults see improvement in their emotional regulation when they practice using DBT therapy every day. Some people catch on to it pretty quickly and see immediate results. Others understand the theory behind DBT, but they struggle to implement it.

If your teen son has tried DBT strategies at home but still struggles with emotional outbursts, he may benefit from attending a therapeutic boarding school. Teenagers who have a hard time with their emotions sometimes need a break from regular life. As usual, rather than continuing with life, they can immerse themselves in a supportive environment that focuses on emotional learning.

Using DBT Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy is a form of cognitive therapy that focuses on regulating emotions. It helps people calm distressing emotions, stay present, and choose their reactions. It is often used to treat mental health conditions like BPD, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and self-harming behavior.

The focus of DBT is set to improve a few main areas.

Staying present

When emotions take over, people can lose sight of what’s happening in the moment. They suddenly feel overwhelmed by the situation and slip into emotional reactions rather than choosing purposeful actions.

DBT uses various mindfulness techniques to help people stay focused on the present situation, so they don’t go down the rabbit hole of emotion. Most mindfulness techniques use the five senses to connect to things that are happening and engage the body and the mind.

You can help your teen use DBT therapy to stay present in a few ways. Here are some examples that you can try at home. If these mindfulness methods don’t work for your son, there are a lot more methods that you can try.

  1. Use paced breathing to focus on your breath and increase the supply of oxygen to your brain. For example: take a deep breath, hold it for five seconds, then fully exhale.

  2. Notice what’s around you. By noticing your surroundings, you stay grounded to your place in the environment. Rather than sinking into your emotions, you see what’s truly around you.

  3. Describe your physical feelings. Acknowledge how you feel both physically and mentally. Do you feel hot? Does your chest feel tight? Is your jaw clenched? Once you notice how you’re physically feeling, you can identify the emotion making your body react that way


  1. Behave in the moment. Try to stay focused on what’s going on rather than letting your mind run wild. Take action that helps you stay present.

Improving distress tolerance

Distress is any level of stress that causes unhealthy emotions or reactions. As we go through life, we will encounter situations that cause distress.

Teens who have a low distress tolerance are more likely to lose control of their actions and act out of emotion. Teenagers can use DBT practices to improve their distress tolerance and feel more at ease with the world.

You can try the TIPP strategy to help your teen son start using DBT therapy to improve distress tolerance.

T: Temperature. Lower your body temperature using cold water, ice, or another method.

I: Intense Exercise. Engage in some intense exercise. This could include going for a run, swim, or bike ride. It could also be something a little quicker, like cranking out some pushups or climbing a set of stairs.

P: Paced Breathing. Slow down your breathing. Try inhaling for five seconds, then exhaling for seven seconds.

P: Paired Muscle Relaxation. Tense then relax your muscles. You could pair the tensing and relaxing with your inhales and exhales. You could also tense and relax muscles starting from the top of your head and ending with your feet.

Emotional Regulation

The overall goal of DBT is to help people learn to regulate their emotions. Emotional regulation involves noticing your current emotion and taking actions to change it. You might not be able to change a negative emotion to a positive one, but you can reduce the intensity of the negative emotion.

As you start using DBT therapy at home, it’s important to help your son learn the importance of fulfilling his basic needs. Many teens with emotional trouble also struggle to notice and care for their essential day-to-day needs. You can use the PLEASE method to help your son take care of himself so that he can better regulate his emotions.

Physical illness: Treat any physical illness rather than trying to ignore it.

Eating: Eat a balanced diet and remember to eat food throughout the day.

Avoid mood-altering substances: Don’t use alcohol or drugs to try and change the way you feel.

Sleep: Get enough sleep every day.

Exercise: Be sure to exercise every day to keep your body healthy.

If you have been using DBT therapy strategies at home, but you’re not seeing success, reach out for help. At Sundance Canyon Academy, we have worked with countless families to help them learn to implement DBT therapy successfully.

Contact us today to find out if we can help your family.

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