Using Mindfulness in DBT

Teens often turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms when they are in an extreme mindset–either completely disconnected from their emotions or consumed by them. In both scenarios, they tend to act impulsively and struggle to sit with negative emotions. Their behavior problems are reinforced by judgments they make about themselves. Mindfulness is one of the four modules used in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) to help teens learn how to accept their emotions and make informed decisions with more clarity. 

What is Mindfulness?

In the most basic terms, 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. Mindfulness has long been a central component in a variety of religious and secular practices from Hinduism and Buddhism to yoga and more recently, has been applied through medical research and practice, such as in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

There are two types of mindfulness, full awareness and attentional control, that work together. Full awareness encourages people to be fully present with their experience without trying to change the situation right away. By slowing down one’s thoughts, people are better able to see choices available to them and make healthier decisions.

What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy? 

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) refers to skills used to help teens manage stress and overwhelming emotions and make more informed decisions. DBT integrates elements of mindfulness by encouraging teens to focus on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting their feelings, thoughts, and physical sensations. The goal of DBT is to help teens access their “Wise Mind,” which is a balance between rational problem-solving and emotional acceptance. 

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


How Mindfulness is Used in DBT

WHAT Skills of Mindfulness


  • Observing thoughts and senses
  • Describe without interpretation
  • Participate in the present


HOW To use the WHAT Skills:


  • Non-judgmentally refers to stating the facts without 
  • One-mindfully refers to being fully present in the moment, not lost in the past, thinking about the future, or multi-tasking.
  • Effectively refers to shifting the focus away from right and wrong to what works. 


Elevations RTC Can Help 

Elevations RTC is a program for adolescents ages 13-18 that are struggling with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, impulsivity, and . We offer a multidisciplinary approach and provide college-preparatory academics, therapeutic recreation activities, and individual, family and group psychotherapy. Our goal is to teach students positive coping skills, communication skills, and self-care practices to help them manage symptoms of depression when stressors arise. Elevations gives students the tools they need to lead healthy, happy lives.

For more information about how we incorporate mindfulness into programming at Elevations RTC, please call .

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