Summer Program Series: Radically Open DBT Intensive for Over-Controlled, Shy Teens in St. Louis with Dr. Kirsten Gilbert

DBT Class With Licensed Clinical Psychologist Dr. Kirsten Gilbert

When your teen experiences stress, anxiety, and perfectionism, you want them to find the best options for help. One great resource in the St. Louis area is Kirsten Gilbert, PhD. Kirsten is leading a RO-DBT class this summer, starting June 17th.

What’s the story behind the program, and why do you like the work?

Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy (RO DBT) is an evidenced based adaptation of standard DBT that targets 'over-controlled' personality. Although self-control is valued in our society and is helpful, too much self-control, in the form of over-control, can lead to a variety of problems that easily go unnoticed and are difficult to treat. Over-control is often characterized by inflexibility/rigidity, rule-governed and perfectionistic behaviors and over-controlled individuals are often shy, risk-averse, tend to suppress or hide emotions, don't like making mistakes and often feel socially awkward, anxious, or lonely. Over-control is a personality style that characterizes many disorders, including some forms of depression, anxiety, and anorexia nervosa.

DBT Psychologist Kirsten Gilbert, PhD

DBT Psychologist Kirsten Gilbert, PhD

I like this work because we help over-controlled teens relax rigid rules, be open to new situations and feedback, help them learn how to play more and how to socially connect with others. In society today, teens have so much pressure to always be working harder, longer, and to be perfect, and RO DBT recognizes that some individuals are almost TOO good at this. These teens need to learn how to be flexible, interact socially, and learn how to make mistakes every once in a while.

What training have you gone through in order to provide this class?

I have my PhD, and I’ve gone through intensive training for RO DBT. I work closely with the treatment developer and master clinicians for ongoing training and research projects.

What supports do you provide for parents?

Parents can check in with us at any time, and we encourage the teens to also be teaching their (often overworked and stressed) parents some of these skills on how to be flexible and open as well! We are also in the works of possibly starting a parents class to meet once monthly to teach some of these skills and provide support, although this is still in the planning stages.

What transformation do you see over the course of the summer program?

This is our first time offering this summer skills class and we are super excited to get it going! When working with individuals, we have seen less stress, better communication with others, more playfulness and more meaningful social relationships develop, while many of the symptoms that were at the forefront of treatment seem to slip away.

What’s something that a parent can do to help their teen get a lot out of this DBT skills class?

The parent can model to the teen that when encountering something new or uncomfortable, we want to be open and curious about it so as to learn from that experience instead of fearing failure or mistakes or avoiding it completely.

How do you help teens who have behavioral issues?

If the teen self-identifies (through a free intake process) as over-controlled and the clinician agrees, we work with behavioral issues by targeting how one of five behavioral themes of over-control might be the source of the behavioral issue:

1) inhibited emotional expression

2) overly cautious and hypervigilent behavior

3) rigid and rule-governed behavior

4) aloof and distant relationships


5) envy, bitterness and social comparison

We try to understand the source of the behavioral issue and target that and the chain links that usually end with the behavioral issue.

How do you work with teens who experience anxiety, including social anxiety?

Social anxiety is often common in individuals with over-control, and we help teens activate their 'social safety system' that helps them to physiologically 'chill out' prior to entering in social situations. Rather than trying to decrease, suppress or regulate anxiety (some anxiety will always be there, and that's ok!), we work on the outward behaviors (i.e., social signals) that the teen is sending, which will have a bi-directional effect on the other person and the entire social interaction.

How does the class respond if the teenager starts to melt down?

The focus is on teaching skills and so we like to differentiate this program from many past groups that individuals could have been in. The teens in our class are often experts at hiding emotions, so we don't see a lot of melting down in public (the melt downs often occur in private with parents or in individual therapy).

What other information do you want parents to know about your program?

This program does not target specific disorders (i.e., we are not a program for anorexia, or for social anxiety disorder). We work with the underlying personality tendencies that can contribute to a wide variety of problematic behaviors and disorders and so offer a fresh perspective on recurring issues. These skills can be used long after the disorder is in remission, as they target personality tendencies not symptoms, so potentially can provide life-long benefits.

How should parents contact you?

Email: or call 314-736-5446

You can also visit our website to learn more and send us a message.

If you’re a parent of an anxious, overwhelmed teen, you shouldn’t have to feel alone. Curious to know more about individual therapy options at Compassionate Counseling St. Louis? Kelsey Torgerson Dunn, MSW, LCSW specializes in anxiety and anger management for kids, teens and college students in St. Louis, MO. You can set up a free phone consultation with her by visiting her website, We work with kids, teens, and families throughout Clayton, Brentwood, Ladue, Creve Couer, and West County. And if we’re not the best fit, we’ll help connect you with other amazing St. Louis counselors, therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists - just like Kirsten!

Please note: some of the answers have been edited for clarity