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A Deeper Dive into Mental Health

September 14, 2018

Structured therapy helps reduce suicidal behaviors in adults and teens 

Many people suffering from depression undergo some type of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. But for those with more severe forms of mental illness with frequent suicidal thoughts or self-injurious behaviors, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) goes a step further in helping people change their thinking, feelings and behaviors.

“It’s not like many peoples’ idea of therapy in the sense of talking about their past, current issues and gaining understanding,” says Roger Cherney, PsyD, manager of behavioral health services for Newton Medical Center. “DBT is focused on skill building and helping a person learn tools so they can change their thoughts, emotions and actions.”

DBT focuses on four main areas: mindfulness, emotional regulation, interpersonal and distress tolerance skills. “It is about helping a person develop strategies to live a healthier, more satisfying life and reducing emotional pain and despair, self-harm, suicidal behavior, and the need for hospitalization,” says Dr. Cherney.


NO MORE WHISPERS is a campaign to end the whispering about mental illness and addiction. There is no shame. You can’t catch it and, like many other diseases, no one asks for it. It affects all ages, ethnicities, income levels and genders. We all know someone. Don’t fear it. Don’t judge it. Understand it. Let’s not whisper anymore.

For more information and help, contact Atlantic Health System’s Crisis Hotline phone number for Newton Medical Center: 973-383-0973.

During the 12-month program, patients participate in weekly two-hour group therapy sessions that follow a predetermined skills training model. Weekly individual sessions focus on developing mastery of the skills. Structured homework and self-monitoring are key parts of the program.

“If someone is very distressed, they learn to accept their experience and to use the tools in their toolkit. There may be a number of things they can do,” says Dr. Cherney. “They can focus on distress tolerance and mindfulness by going outside and taking 10 minutes to look at the lilacs, take a warm bath, or listening to some soothing music. They learn to use what works for them. They engage in constructive activity.”

In addition to weekly group sessions and homework, participants have weekly individual coaching; they can also call their clinician to discuss situations that may arise. An adolescent dialectical behavior therapy program is available for teens aged 14 to 17. A family member participates with the teen in the 16-week program.

“When people first start DBT treatment, they often describe their life as a literal living hell,” says Dr. Cherney. “DBT is a well-researched, effective approach to difficult emotional problems. We can help adults and teens learn the skills to lessen their suffering and create a life worth living.”

For more information on the DBT program at the Atlantic Behavioral Health Access Center at Newton, call 1-888-247-1400. Individuals can self-refer or be referred by a health care provider.