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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapeutic approach that is founded on the principals of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and blends Eastern mindfulness techniques (e.g., awareness, mindfulness, and attentiveness to current situations and emotional experiences) to encourage acceptance and change. In was developed by Marsha M. Linehan in the late 1980s, as a means to better treat individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), suffering from pervasive suicidal ideation. Since its inception, dialectical behavior therapy has been and remains the gold standard method of treatment for individuals diagnosed with BPD, and has also become recognized as an effective therapeutic method of treatment for a wide range of other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorder (SUD), eating disorders, and more. Dialectical behavior therapy helps individuals foster healthy coping mechanisms and useful techniques for managing stress, regulating emotions, and improving relationships with others.

DBT Skills

Dialectical behavior therapy is carried out in three distinct therapeutic settings, including weekly individual psychotherapy (one-on-one therapy) sessions; weekly DBT skills training group sessions, and access to twenty-four-hour support between sessions via phone coaching. DBT focuses on teaching skills in four primary areas, or four modules, which are:

  • Core mindfulness: focuses on improving an individual’s ability to accept and be present in any given moment. The skills in this module help individuals learn the importance and value of slowing down and taking pause instead of succumbing to intense emotions and acting in destructive ways. 
  • Distress tolerance: focuses on increasing an individual’s tolerance of negative emotion as opposed to attempting to avoid or escape from it. The skills in this module help individuals learn various techniques for handling crisis (e.g., distraction, self-soothing, improving the moment, etc.). 
  • Emotion regulation: focuses on helping an individual identify, name, understand the function of, and regulate their emotions. The skills taught in this module are intended to help an individual learn to decrease the intensity of their emotions, sit with and experience strong emotions that are causing problems in one’s life, without impulsively acting on them. 
  • Interpersonal effectiveness: focuses on increasing an individual’s communication strategies. The skills taught in this module help an individual learn to identify what their own needs are in a relationship and develop assertive and effective communication methods to ensure those needs are met in a healthy, nondestructive way. 

Behavioral Tech explains that “DBT works because it successfully increases clients’ ability to use effective

coping skills, particularly strategies for expressing, experiencing, and regulating intense emotions.” Studies have found that certain improvements, can be fully or partially attributed to learning and implementing DBT skills (e.g., improvements in emotion regulation, reduced experiential avoidance, minimized assertive anger, etc.). The DBT process is heavily influenced by the philosophical perspective of dialectics, or the balancing of opposites. DBT encourages an inclusive worldview and perspective (both- and) instead of an exclusive (either- or) outlook on life. It essentially shifts one’s perspective on life by helping individuals learn to identify ways to hold two seemingly opposite perspectives simultaneously. 

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.

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