Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Anxiety Disorders in Children
Clinicians at the Child Study Center, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, may suggest dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). This type of therapy is designed to treat adolescents who have difficulty controlling their emotions and behaviors. This form of therapy may be effective for teens with complex anxiety or mood disorders that cause them to experience suicidal thoughts, engage in self-injurious behaviors, struggle to regulate emotions, act impulsively, or have frequent and intense conflicts with peers, adults, or other family members.
Dialectical behavior therapy blends techniques from traditional cognitive behavioral therapy with acceptance-based strategies from Zen mindfulness practices. The goal of the treatment is to help teens and their caregivers learn the skills necessary to build a life that feels worth living.
The initial phase of treatment requires individual therapy sessions for your teen once or twice per week, as well as participation in a weekly multi-family skills group with multiple sets of teens and their caregivers learning new skills together. Sessions last for 24 weeks. Teens who participate in the program also have direct access to phone coaching, a 24-hour service to help them regulate their emotions in real time.
During individual therapy sessions, a clinician helps a teen and their family identify the factors contributing to difficulties regulating emotions. They learn skills to maintain safety and reduce the severity of anxiety and mood symptoms. The clinician teaches effective coping and problem-solving skills to help the teen stay motivated to work toward their long-term goals. Each session lasts 45 to 60 minutes.
During the two-hour multi-family skills group, teens and their caregivers learn five modules of skills together: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and Walking the Middle Path, a module specifically dedicated to improving family relationships and communication.