Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an effective approach to decreasing suicidal behaviors; the adapted, family-based model for adolescents (through 18 years old; DBT-A) also demonstrates efficacy. Data on higher dropout rates based on age, initial research on DBT with young adults in the community, and the theory that underlies DBT suggest that adaptations may also be appropriate for young adults. This study examines the effectiveness of DBT-A, presents preliminary data on delivering DBT-A to young adults (ages 18–26), and compares clinical characteristics, service utilization, and outcomes to adolescent clients (ages 13–17) to guide clinical considerations and future research on implementing DBT-A.
Data were collected from a DBT-A clinic and included results from semi-structured diagnostic interviews, chart review, and scores on self-report measures. The Suicide Ideation Questionnaire and Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), given at program entry, after completion of one rotation through the skills modules, and at graduation, were used to evaluate outcomes. Outcomes were benchmarked against prior DBT-A trials. Adolescents’ and young adults’ clinical characteristics, service utilization, and outcomes were compared.
The effect size observed was smaller than in efficacy trials. Few differences were observed between teens (n = 87) and young adults (n = 45). Young adults were more likely to have participated in intensive services before DBT-A. They participated in fewer family sessions and graduated in fewer months compared to teens.
This study supports the use of the family-based model of DBT for suicidal teens and young adults although future research is needed to improve the effectiveness of this model when implemented in real-world settings.