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Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health. 2011 Jan 28;5(1):3. doi: 10.1186/1753-2000-5-3.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy for Adolescents (DBT-A): a clinical Trial for Patients with suicidal and self-injurious Behavior and Borderline Symptoms with a one-year Follow-up.

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  • 1Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Department of Psychiatry and Psychosomatic Medicine, Albert Ludwig University Medical Center Freiburg, Hauptstr, 8, 79104 Freiburg, Germany.



To date, there are no empirically validated treatments of good quality for adolescents showing suicidality and non-suicidal self-injurious behavior. Risk factors for suicide are impulsive and non-suicidal self-injurious behavior, depression, conduct disorders and child abuse. Behind this background, we tested the main hypothesis of our study; that Dialectical Behavioral Therapy for Adolescents is an effective treatment for these patients.


Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) has been developed by Marsha Linehan - especially for the outpatient treatment of chronically non-suicidal patients diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. The modified version of DBT for Adolescents (DBT-A) from Rathus & Miller has been adapted for a 16-24 week outpatient treatment in the German-speaking area by our group. The efficacy of treatment was measured by a pre-/post- comparison and a one-year follow-up with the aid of standardized instruments (SCL-90-R, CBCL, YSR, ILC, CGI).


In the pilot study, 12 adolescents were treated. At the beginning of therapy, 83% of patients fulfilled five or more DSM-IV criteria for borderline personality disorder. From the beginning of therapy to one year after its end, the mean value of these diagnostic criteria decreased significantly from 5.8 to 2.75. 75% of patients were kept in therapy. For the behavioral domains according to the SCL-90-R and YSR, we have found effect sizes between 0.54 and 2.14.During treatment, non-suicidal self-injurious behavior reduced significantly. Before the start of therapy, 8 of 12 patients had attempted suicide at least once. There were neither suicidal attempts during treatment with DBT-A nor at the one-year follow-up.


The promising results suggest that the interventions were well accepted by the patients and their families, and were associated with improvement in multiple domains including suicidality, non-suicidal self-injurious behavior, emotion dysregulation and depression from the beginning of therapy to the one-year follow-up.

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