Objective

We examined whether a shortened form of dialectical behavior therapy, dialectical behavior therapy for adolescents (DBT-A) is more effective than enhanced usual care (EUC) to reduce self-harm in adolescents.

Method

This was a randomized study of 77 adolescents with recent and repetitive self-harm treated at community child and adolescent psychiatric outpatient clinics who were randomly allocated to either DBT-A or EUC. Assessments of self-harm, suicidal ideation, depression, hopelessness, and symptoms of borderline personality disorder were made at baseline and after 9, 15, and 19 weeks (end of trial period), and frequency of hospitalizations and emergency department visits over the trial period were recorded.

Results

Treatment retention was generally good in both treatment conditions, and the use of emergency services was low. DBT-A was superior to EUC in reducing self-harm, suicidal ideation, and depressive symptoms. Effect sizes were large for treatment outcomes in patients who received DBT-A, whereas effect sizes were small for outcomes in patients receiving EUC. Total number of treatment contacts was found to be a partial mediator of the association between treatment and changes in the severity of suicidal ideation, whereas no mediation effects were found on the other outcomes or for total treatment time.

Conclusion

DBT-A may be an effective intervention to reduce self-harm, suicidal ideation, and depression in adolescents with repetitive self-harming behavior.

Clinical trial registration information—Treatment for Adolescents With Deliberate Self Harm; http://ClinicalTrials.gov/; NCT00675129.

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