Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Special Populations

Mental Health Substance Use Prevention or Treatment Does Not Currently Meet Criteria

Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Special Populations (DBT-SP) is an adaptation of DBT® designed for adults with dual diagnoses of developmental disabilities and psychiatric disorders. DBT-SP aims to help participants “build a life worth living” by developing the skills needed to change patterns in their behaviors, emotions, thoughts, and interpersonal relationships. DBT-SP’s approach is grounded in the idea that two seemingly opposing facts can both be true, most notably that the goals of therapy include both acceptance and change. DBT-SP providers strive to help participants both accept themselves and change their behavior. 


DBT-SP focuses on group skills training where skills trainers teach behavioral skills to groups of participants over three modules: (1) distress tolerance, (2) emotion regulation, and (3) relationship effectiveness. The content in each module is designed to be accessible for participants with developmental disabilities. In the distress tolerance module, skills trainers focus on building acceptance-oriented skills that help participants learn to accept and tolerate painful situations without engaging in harmful behaviors such as substance use. The emotion regulation and relationship effectiveness modules focus on building change-oriented skills. In the emotion regulation module, skills trainers focus on helping participants learn to be less susceptible to painful emotions. In the relationship effectiveness module, skills trainers teach participants to ask for what they want, to say no when necessary, and to maintain respectful relationships with themselves and others. Skills trainers also integrate mindfulness concepts, such as accepting current circumstances and being present, into each of the three modules.  

DBT-SP does not currently meet criteria to receive a rating because no studies met eligibility criteria for review.

Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed: May 2024


The following sources informed the program or service description, target population, and program or service delivery and implementation information: the program or service manual, and the program or service developer’s website. 

This information does not necessarily represent the views of the program or service developers. For more information on how this program or service was reviewed, visit the Review Process page or download the Handbook.

Target Population

DBT-SP is designed for adults with dual diagnoses of developmental disabilities and psychiatric disorders.  


Skills trainers typically deliver weekly sessions to groups of participants. Skills trainers typically deliver the three skills modules over a 36-week period. Skills trainers provide 10 weeks of training on distress tolerance skills, 12 weeks of training on emotion regulation skills, and 14 weeks of training on relationship effectiveness skills. 

Location/Delivery Setting
Recommended Locations/Delivery Settings

Therapists and skills trainers deliver DBT-SP in clinical settings, including therapists’ offices, outpatient clinics, and inpatient and residential treatment centers.  

Education, Certifications and Training

Skills trainers are typically licensed mental health professionals such as psychotherapists, counselors, case managers, social workers, other clinical staff, or psychiatric nurses. Others who have received DBT training can deliver group skills training to participants, such as teachers, paraprofessionals, and volunteers. 

Therapists can go through an optional process to be a certified DBT clinician. The pre-requisites to become certified include having a graduate degree in a mental health-related field, a license to practice as an independent mental health practitioner, prior training in DBT and in mindfulness, and clinical experience delivering DBT individual therapy and telephone coaching. To receive certification, therapists must pass a written exam and an assessment of videotaped treatment sessions in which they deliver individual therapy. 

Program or Service Documentation
Book/Manual/Available documentation used for review

Dykstra, E. J., & Charlton, M. (2015). Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills training: Adapted for special populations (Version 3.4).

Available languages

The DBT-SP manual is available in English. 

Other supporting materials

DBT Certification Information 

For More Information

Phone: 616-667-9551

Email: eric@anchoredfamilypsych.com 

Note: The details on Dosage; Location; Education, Certifications, and Training; Other Supporting Materials; and For More Information sections above are provided to website users for informational purposes only. This information is not exhaustive and may be subject to change.

Results of Search and Review Number of Studies Identified and Reviewed for Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Special Populations
Identified in Search 1
Eligible for Review 0
Rated High 0
Rated Moderate 0
Rated Low 0
Reviewed Only for Risk of Harm 0
Sometimes study results are reported in more than one document, or a single document reports results from multiple studies. Studies are identified below by their Prevention Services Clearinghouse study identification numbers. To receive a rating of supported or well-supported, the favorable evidence for a program or service must have been obtained from research conducted in a usual care or practice setting.

Studies Not Eligible for Review

Study 13262

Jones, J., Blinkhorn, A., McQueen, M., Hewett, L., Mills‐Rogers, M. J., Hall, L., Althagafi, L., Hudson, C., Gierc, M., Wright, K., Goettl, H., Keogh‐Lim, D., Rischke‐Peddle, A., & Ayub, M. (2021). The adaptation and feasibility of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy for adults with intellectual developmental disabilities and transdiagnoses: A pilot community‐based randomized controlled trial. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 34(3), 805-817. https://doi.org/10.1111/jar.12860

This study is ineligible for review because it is not a study of the program or service under review (Study Eligibility Criterion 4.1.6).