Learning to manage emotions with Dialectical Behavior Therapy | YES

Explore the model that’s helping thousands of teens in YES’ care get on track to a healthier life.

Patti Skelton-McGougan

Patti Skelton-McGougan

When Julianna, then 18 years old, came to Youth Eastside Services (YES), she didn’t know how to cope with stress or trauma from her childhood — or the negative emotions they caused — other than using drugs. But through Dialectical Behavior Therapy classes and YES’ counseling services, she was able to learn positive ways of handling tough situations.

“I’ve learned how to ride emotions and … feel the emotion and not be caught up in the feelings. I’ve learned that emotions pass,” she says.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT, was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan in the 1970s to treat adult borderline personality disorder. It focuses on empowering teens (and adults) to better handle their emotions and build more effective relationships by teaching skills in four areas:

Mindfulness – Helps teens control and regulate their attention and learn to me more present in their daily lives.

Distress tolerance – Helps teens tolerate stressful situations and make better decisions under distress.

Interpersonal effectiveness – Helps teens negotiate relationships with others by asking for what they want and need – and by saying “no” effectively.

Emotion regulation – Helps teens recognize, validate and reduce the intensity of their emotions.

Research shows that DBT can be highly effective for treating a number of behavioral health issues, including eating disorders, substance use, suicidal ideation, depression and more. YES often uses DBT techniques in one-to-one counseling, plus offers DBT classes at all three of its offices—including a DBT class geared specifically to teens who are using substances.

What many people may not know is that many of the skills learned during DBT treatment can apply to everyone, even those not dealing with mental health or substance issues, with major benefits to day-to-day life.

Here are two activities that you can do by yourself, or with your family, to become more engaged and emotionally regulated:

Mindfulness

Get a letter-sized sheet of paper, close your eyes and take three minutes to tear it into the shape of an animal.

What it does: Forces you to be mindful of the task at hand. Works especially well for people who have trouble honing their focus during meditation.

Distress tolerance

Collect items that soothe you when you’re upset — tea, books, photos, stuffed animals, etc. — and put them in a container.

What it does: Makes you think critically about the things that help you cope with stress, and gives you a resource to turn to when you’re feeling stressed.

Patti Skelton-McGougan is the executive director at Youth Eastside Services.

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