How Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is Incorporated into Programming at Elevations

One of the main therapies used at Elevations is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which is an effective treatment modality for those who have difficulty controlling stressful and overwhelming emotions. It helps teens find the language to regulate internal conflict. Elevations is a DBT-certified campus and the practice is deeply incorporated into many aspects of programming. Our primary therapists are DBT-certified, and DBT language is incorporated into academics, recreational activities, group therapy, individual therapy, family therapy, and the residential setting.

What is DBT Therapy?

DBT therapy helps teens develop numerous skills they can use when they begin experiencing feelings of failure, shame, depression, or anger. A skill-based therapeutic approach, DBT aims to replace problem behaviors with skillful behaviors to improve coping mechanisms. Skill-based therapy provides teens with a toolkit of adaptive skills to moderate and manage previously difficult situations.

The D in DBT, “dialectic”, means you can hold two truths or two seemingly opposite concepts, with the acknowledgment that both can be true at the same time. This therapeutic skill of holding two truths at the same time is all about learning to navigate perspective by changing the way you are viewing or managing a situation. DBT allows teens to experience a range of emotions rather than becoming fixated on only one negative emotion. This is crucial for teens and adolescents as they often suppress their emotions or use unhealthy coping mechanisms to distract or avoid feelings.

The foundational philosophy or principle of DBT is to help people create a fulfilling life worth living. DBT empowers teens to navigate their relationships more healthily and productively. Generally speaking, teens who come to Elevations have previously struggled with their emotions either at home or with their teachers and peers. By using DBT we aim to minimize problematic behaviors while providing our students with skills to help improve relationships.

Combining DBT and Mindfulness

Our goal is to teach students positive coping skills, communication skills, and self-care practices to help them manage symptoms of anxiety and depression when stressors arise. In DBT, mindfulness skills are considered the core component of improved emotional regulation. DBT mindfulness is taught and reviewed throughout treatment and practiced in daily life at Elevations by both staff and students.

Mindfulness is one of the four modules used in DBT to help teens learn how to accept their emotions and make informed decisions with more clarity. Mindfulness is the practice of cultivating nonjudgmental awareness in day-to-day life. It refers to being in control of your mind, rather than letting your mind take control of you.

DBT teaches teens a variety of mindfulness and distress tolerance strategies such as:

  • Focusing on one thing at a time
  • Recognizing that feelings and thoughts are not facts
  • Observing physical sensations during body scans
  • Structured breathing and other mindfulness practices


DBT Training for Students and Parents

Upon enrolling at Elevations, students begin DBT training. This training consists of a 16-week course with a workbook, assigned readings, and group meetings. The first time teens go through this process, they go through basic training and learn various skills such as interpersonal effectiveness, Walking the Middle Path, mindfulness, distress tolerance, and emotional regulation. After completing the first eight weeks, they move on to advanced DBT training.

Students have a designated group meeting time during which students review the material covered in their readings, workbook, handouts, or homework sheets. This group is structured to be a motivational and supportive setting. Students are encouraged to set weekly goals for themselves and support others as they strive towards their own goals. Students can retake the DBT training as many times as needed and can even utilize the groups and coursework as alumni after they graduate.

We believe that DBT effectiveness will increase if parents have the same skillsets being taught to their child. As such, parents are encouraged to complete the same DBT course students complete at Elevations. Similarly to their children, parents are encouraged to set weekly goals for themselves. Parents have the opportunity to use these skills to manage their own responses and experiences.

The most important part of the parent DBT group is that it provides parents with a connection to other parents in a non-judgmental environment. Together, parents can safely learn skills and have a supportive community that understands their unique family challenges. Parents who attend our DBT training classes have a common language to use with their children to encourage and support more effective behaviors.

Many different types of mental health conditions improve with DBT treatment, and the skills learned allow individuals to lead happier lives. With our DBT-focused programming, our students and families notice a growth in their interpersonal capabilities, improved communication skills, and a greater ability to adapt and handle distress and conflict. By practicing mindfulness, our students graduate from our program with a full toolkit of strategies to rely on in difficult situations and day-to-day life.

“We are very thankful for Elevations. Tiffany was an amazing therapist for our family. She is an exceptional clinician and very likable. We, as parents, benefited greatly from the family support and DBT classes, Jenn Maddock was the best. We are grateful that Elevations continues to allow alumni families to participate in the family support programming.” Parent – B.C.

Interested in learning more about how our DBT-integrated programming drives positive change for families? Read what Elevations families are saying about our programming on our testimonials page.