Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is widely known for being developed to treat borderline personality disorder. It is now utilized to treat various mental health disorders. DBT is influenced by the philosophical perspective of dialectics: balancing opposites. Dialectical behavioral therapy focuses on high-risk, tough-to-treat individuals. These individuals often have multiple diagnoses. DBT provides individuals with the skills to manage difficult emotions and resolve as well as decrease conflict in relationships. DBT is considered an evidenced-based practice (EBP). An EBP is the integration of the best available research with clinical expertise in the context of patient characteristics, preferences, and culture. This allows for DBT therapy to be both effective and accessible. There is no set timeline for DBT.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Defined

Dialectical behavior therapy is heavily based on cognitive behavior therapy. Through dialectical behavior therapy, the therapist assists individuals in discovering a balance between acceptance and change. DBT focuses on four key areas; mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. Mindfulness guides individuals in being more self-aware and being in the present moment. Distress tolerance teaches individuals how to experience intense feelings without resorting to self-injurious behaviors or substance abuse to manage the feelings. Emotion regulation helps individuals recognize, label, and adjust their emotions. Interpersonal effectiveness teaches individuals how to navigate conflict and interact assertively with others. In DBT, individuals learn coping skills like mindfulness practices in order to improve unhealthy behaviors and thoughts. In general, DBT has two main components; individual weekly psychotherapy sessions and weekly group therapy sessions. The weekly individual sessions are where individuals are given the space to discuss any difficulties that arose in the past week. If there are suicidal and/or self-injurious behaviors they are always first priority.

What DBT is Used for:

Although dialectical behavior therapy was developed originally to treat borderline personality disorder, research has shown it to be effective in treating other disorders and mental health problems that threaten a person’s safety, relationships, work, and emotional well-being such as:

  • Depression
  • Bulimia
  • Binge-eating disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Substance abuse
  • Individuals with suicidal behavior

Choosing a Type of Therapy:

No matter what type of therapy a therapist uses it is crucial to determine what fits an individual’s personality and their presenting symptoms. Change does not happen overnight and is not one-sided. DBT therapy provides individuals with the skills to regulate emotions, tolerate distress and negative emotions, be mindful and present in the given moment, and communicate and interact effectively with others.


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