Dialectical Behavior Therapy Approaches for Youth With High Suicide Risk

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

Michele Berk, PhD, Stanford University, presents as part of the 2023 Suicide-Focused Assessment and Treatment: An Update for Professionals course.

Teens, Suicide, and DBT

In this talk, Berk discusses the effectiveness of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) for youth with high suicide risk.

Watch now to learn more about:

  • Which treatments are available for addressing suicide risk in adolescents
  • Why DBT for adolescents is effective in preventing suicide in this population
  • How DBT works

Suicide is a major public health problem among youth. In the United States, it is the second leading cause of death among 10- to 14-year-olds, and the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds.

In 2021, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a national survey administered by the CDC every two years to high school students in the U.S., 22% of high school students reported seriously considering suicide.

In her talk, Berk states that despite the urgency of this problem, there is a limited amount of treatments proven to be effective in addressing the issue of suicide and self-harm in adolescents.

View the Slides

DBT is a cognitive-behavioral treatment approach that was developed by Marsha Linehan at the University of Washington for treating chronically suicidal and self-harming adults.

The treatment has strong clinical data supporting its effectiveness with adults. The adaptation of DBT for adolescents is the only well-established empirically supported treatment for adolescents at risk for suicide.

DBT targets emotion dysregulation as the primary cause of suicidal and self-harm behaviors.

Berk explains that the idea behind the treatment is that people become suicidal or engage in non-suicidal self-injury when they are experiencing very intense negative emotions and feel desperate to feel better and reduce those emotions.

“When that emotion dysregulation is combined with some sort of sense of hopelessness, then the idea of suicide starts to become a viable option to someone,” Berk explains.

“The focus of DBT is on teaching people many skills for regulating emotions safely and effectively so they do not need to use self-harm anymore, as well as building a life worth living, where the desire to live and experience a life that feels again worth living to them can override urges for suicide.”


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About Michele Berk

Dr. Michele Berk is an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavior sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. With a focus on research, teaching, and clinical service in the area of psychotherapy approaches for treating suicidal behavior in adolescents, Dr. Berk is dedicated to contributing to the research literature in this area, as well as to providing high-quality, empirically informed training in suicide assessment and treatment to therapists in training and to mental health professionals in the community.