Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Navigating the Teen Years: How DBT and CBT Can Support Your Teen's Mental Health

6 years ago I went through a very big mental health crisis and while it was a time in my life I would certainly never want to repeat, because of how bad of a situation I was in, I enrolled in an intensive DBT course through my psychiatrist's office. And it was life changing. Not only did that help me in my healing process from all my trauma, it also gave me tools that are so useful, not only in my day to day life with my own issues, but in parenting my children as well. I use DBT and CBT skills that I learned in therapy to help my children cope with my own challenges. Author Isabella Finn wrote a book teaching teens to use CBT and DBT skills called Essential Coping Skills Workbook for Teens which is really exciting, and she wrote this post to introduce you to the concepts of DBT and CBT and how you can use them to help your children thrive.

The teenage years—when your world revolved around acne, braces, and emotions that felt like hurricanes. Remember those days? The awkwardness, the confusion, and the question of why your locker seemed to double as a trash can for chewed gum.

Now, fast forward to today's teenagers. They are grappling with the usual adolescent challenges and navigating a digital world fraught with social media fame (or shame), soaring academic expectations, and a relentless barrage of curveballs from life itself.

It's no wonder they sometimes resemble ticking time bombs, trying to balance flaming chainsaws while riding a unicycle over a shark tank (albeit with slightly less dramatic language).

You're not alone in this emotional upheaval as a parent, guardian, or concerned adult. You can be the lighthouse guiding them through the storm. And guess what? You've got what it takes!

Is your teenager giving you a hard time with mood swings and struggles? Don't worry; here is a secret recipe for dealing with grumpy adolescents.

Forget therapy jargon; think of this as equipping your teen with secret weapons. We're discussing cool stuff like managing stress, boosting happiness, and mastering emotions.

The famous author and psychologist Dr. Seuss once said,

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”

Let’s help your teen steer themselves toward happiness and success!

Here’s a guide for you on supporting your teen's emotional well-being—a partner on this bumpy journey, complete with insights, practical tips, and just enough humor to keep things light (because, the fact is, parenting teenagers can be downright hilarious, even in the midst of head banging moments).

Introducing CBT and DBT?  

Feeling down? Bam! CBT teaches kids to ditch negative thoughts and embrace the good ones.

Anxious? Boom! DBT helps them stay calm and collected.

We know you are now wondering what CBT and DBT actually are. Let us put it down in simple words.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy): Consider thoughts, feelings, and actions linked like dominoes. They react in a dominos-effect pattern too. CBT helps your teen identify the negative thoughts that are making them feel down, stressed, or anxious. This is just like replacing old and faulty wiring with new ones.

DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy): This therapy is like CBT's sophisticated sibling, giving it all a new attribute. It works in dual directions. It teaches them to accept themselves while changing and working on things that cause them pain. It is like finding that sweet spot on a seesaw, where both sides are balanced and equal.

What problems can these therapy saviors help with?

Here are some everyday teen struggles they can tackle:

Negative thoughts:
  • "I'm a failure" 
  • "Nobody likes me"
  • "It's hopeless"
CBT and DBT help change them into more realistic and helpful ones. For example:
  • “I’m not that bad” 
  • “It’s not that bad”
Low mood:

Feeling down, empty, or uninterested in stuff they used to love? These therapies can help find the root causes and alleviate them.


Constant fear, stress, worry, or physical symptoms like stomachaches? CBT and DBT teach relaxation techniques to combat anxiety.


Feeling like a pressure cooker screaming wildly? CBT and DBT help manage anger in healthy ways. Your teen will be able to express needs calmly and find healthy outlets.


Thinking after acting? CBT and DBT help your teen take a pause, weigh options, and choose better actions.


Hurting themselves to cope with pain? These therapies help reach a point where healthier ways to manage emotions and build self-love become norms.

CBT and DBT work like magic in teaching teens to navigate this maze called life paired up with emotional build-up. A therapist's guidance and some effort for your end, can help your teen to develop the needed skills and resilience to thrive.

How to support your teen with CBT and DBT skills?

We understand how difficult it is being a parent to teens, seeing them facing misery and not having a clue how to get them out of it. The good thing is that proven therapies like CBT and DBT can help you become the superhero parent and your teens the warriors and saviors for themselves.

Always remember that things are more manageable than they seem. Don't be fooled by big words. Be the biggest cheerleaders for your teens.

Here is how you can do this:

Empathy goes a long way

Being empathetic is the king of all traits. Validating your teens’ feelings, giving them the confidence to speak their hearts out without being judged, and conforming to their inner thoughts no matter how different they are from yours make you an empathetic parent, and this is the crux of what your teen needs.

Be a listening ear for them

"The greatest gift you can give your children is your time and attention."
- Oprah Winfrey

The biggest reason for teens’ frustration is the feeling of not being heard. A little undivided attention, listening to them, making eye contact, and talking about their thoughts and emotions reflect that you are interested in their lives and they matter.

Celebrate small milestones

like you and me, this little human being likes to be appreciated and encouraged. Making a big fuss out of small victories like learning to cope with emotion or letting go of the fear of something can help your teens in extraordinary ways.

Be an example

Actions speak louder than words. If you want your teen to adopt effective learning, teach them by doing things yourself. You can start a new hobby to cope with emotional stress or calm your emotions and show them how effective this method is.

No shame in asking for help

Seeking professional help is a stigma. Your teens need to be educated in this regard. They need to realize the power of practical help when received timely.

Super Skills With CBT & DBT

"The mind is everything. What you think you become." - Buddha

CBT and DBT are like secret training manuals for emotional well-being. Here are some cool moves your teen can master:

Thought-Busting with Records

Negative thoughts can be pesky villains. Teach them to identify and challenge these thoughts using "Thought Records." It's like writing down the situation, the emotion, the evil thought, and evidence for and against it and then rewriting it with a more realistic and helpful one. Bye-bye, negativity!

Riding the Wave of Emotions

When emotions threaten to overwhelm, equip them with IMPROVE, a coping strategy like a magic surfboard. It stands for Imagery (create a calming mental picture), Meaning (find purpose in the situation), Prayer (connect with their spirituality), Relaxation (practice calming techniques), One thing at a time (focus on the present), Vacation (take a mental break), and Encouragement (offer self-compassion and positive affirmations).


Communication is the key, and with these techniques you can make your teen communicate like a pro.

DEAR MAN is a DBT technique (and an acronym) that teaches a person to describe the situation clearly and express feelings. He needs to be honest, assert requests directly but respectfully, reinforce positive behavior, stay mindful of their goal, appear confident, and negotiate when required to find win-win solutions.

Taming the Craving Monster

Cravings can be tempting, but giving in can lead to trouble. Urge Surfing is a technique that enables you to watch your urges rise and fall like waves. It can teach kids to ride out these urges without acting impulsively. It's like noticing the urge, observing it without judgment, letting it pass like a wave, and avoiding giving in.

Patience is Your Power

"Let your kids know that you love them more than anything in the world. Let them know that you are proud of them no matter what." - Michael Levine

Mastering these skills takes time and practice. Celebrate progress, no matter how small, and offer support through setbacks.

Personalize the training

"Families are like fingerprints - uniquely different, yet forever connected." - John F. Kennedy

The moment you realize your teen is an individual and unique person, half the battle is won. You need to acknowledge your teen’s individuality and hence his likes, dislikes, preferences, and the exceptional road map to his success.

Don't hesitate to ask for guidance

It is imperative to mention this repeatedly; you cannot do this alone, and don't be overwhelmed by the bumps in your journey. Seek help from professionals in CBT and DBT. They will simplify your and your teens’ journeys with bespoke modules and specialized pieces of training.

Just like a plant grows and blooms in favorable conditions, if you nurture your teen with love, care, empathy, understanding, and support, there is no way your teen cannot breeze through the difficulties of teenage life. Techniques like CBT and DBT act as nutrient-rich fertilizers to fuel the growth and blooming process.

Creating a positive and supportive environment for your teen

Building Trust: From Fort Knox to Open Door Policy

Mission: Impossible? Not at all! Imagine your teen as a secret agent, and you're their trusted Q Branch. Actively listen without judgment, becoming their Mission: Impossible HQ. Use phrases like "Tell me more," "That sounds tough," and "I'm here for you, no matter what." Remember, you're not the CIA, so ditch the interrogations and focus on building a safe space for them to share their intel (feelings). You can get more information from my book on Amazon. Essential Coping Skills for Teens.

Humor Alert! Channel your inner James Bond. When they confide in you, respond with a playful, "Is this about world domination or just that pesky math homework?" Laughter disarms tension and shows you're listening (even if you're secretly panicking about world domination).

Empowering Independence: From Training Wheels to Rocket Boots

Operation: Launchpad! Don't be a helicopter parent hovering overhead. Instead, be their mission control, offering guidance and support as they enter independence. Gradually increase their responsibilities, starting with small tasks like taking out the trash or planning their outfits. Remember, even astronauts need practice before they can walk on the moon.

Humor Alert! Embrace the inevitable mishaps. When they forget to take out the trash, they pretend to be a bewildered alien who only eats banana peels. "But where are the delicious banana peels, young human?" Laughter softens the blow and teaches them responsibility (plus, it's hilarious).

Fueling Passions: From Couch Potato to Superhero

Operation: Fan Club! Unleash their inner superhero by supporting their passions, whether coding like Iron Man or painting like Starry Night, be their biggest cheerleader. Help them find resources, join clubs, or even create their own "secret lair" (dedicated hobby space). Remember, every superhero needs a Batcave.

Humor Alert! Channel your inner Dr. Evil. When deep in their passion zone, they burst in with a playful, "Are you building a doomsday device or just perfecting your coding skills?" Laughter shows you're interested and reminds them you're always there to support their world domination (of the creative kind, of course).

Building Relationships: From Squad Goals to Jedi Mind Tricks

Operation: Friendship Force! Help them navigate the complex world of friendships. Role-play healthy communication scenarios, discuss the importance of respect and boundaries, and empower them to seek your guidance if they encounter toxic relationships. Remember, you're not Yoda, but you can still guide them toward healthy friendships.

Humor Alert! Channel your inner Hermione Granger. When dealing with a friendship drama, offer a playful, "Don't worry, even Ron and Hermione had their arguments. Remember, communication is magic, and friendship is the ultimate spell." Laughter helps them see things differently and teaches them valuable social skills.

Unconditional Love: From Fort Hug to Forever Fan Club

: Heartbeat HQ! Your teens need more love than they will ever need in their entire lives. Show them unconditional love and support even when they are at their worst and lowest. Each day should have regular check-in times and dedicated time for casual chats to celebrate their talents and uniqueness. Your few words of encouragement like "You've got this!" will take them a long way. Be their biggest fan, cheering them on even when they are the worst performer on the team.

Humor Alert! Imagine yourself as Mary Poppins. On their feeling-down days, offer a playful "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! Tell them that even superheroes have bad days. Be there for them with a tub of ice cream (and maybe some pizza) to help them pass through it. Laughter is the best medicine; they need it on those awful days.

Remember: Building a supportive environment is like slow-cooking a dish to yield the best flavors. Patience, celebrations, and, most importantly, having fun along the way are the keys to success. Add love, humor, and love to create a home that's more than just a place to live. Go forth, parent warrior, and conquer the teenage years with laughter and love!


And so, the story continues... The teenage years are a whirlwind, a beautiful mess, a constant learning experience like trying to assemble IKEA furniture blindfolded. You'll stumble, laugh, and maybe even cry (okay, definitely call), but remember, laughter is the duct tape that holds it all together. Embrace the unknown, and celebrate the journey, even when it feels like riding a rodeo clown bull blindfolded. As Maya Angelou said,

"Children learn to love just as they learn to walk – through stumbling and falling."

So, stumble on, dear parent warrior, and know that every misstep is a step closer to raising a magnificent human.

Love is the strongest player in this scenario, capable of winning the most brutal battles. Shower them with love, even when they're acting like a teenage gremlin who stole your last slice of pizza. Because trust us, they need it more than they'll ever admit.

Remember, even superheroes need their Batcave, and you are their architect. So, build a Batcave of love, laughter, and open communication. The world needs your superhero, and you are their guiding light. Remember, the force is strong with you, parent warrior. Now conquer those laundry mountains, survive those awkward movie nights, and prepare for the inevitable dance parties in the living room. You've got this!

Do you use DBT or CBT skills in your parenting? Which DBT or CBT skill do you find most useful? Or does this sound like something you'd want to learn?

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