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Does DBT Help With Intrusive Thoughts?

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapeutic modality that combines techniques from western cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psycho-educational modules, and eastern mindfulness-based practices to foster the systematic learning of new emotional coping skills. It was developed in the late 1980s by Marsha M. Linehan, as a means to more effectively treat individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) struggling with suicidal ideation. Borderline personality disorder is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic mental health disorder. The Merck Manual explains that BPD is “characterized by a pervasive pattern of instability and hypersensitivity in interpersonal relationships, instability in self-image, extreme mood fluctuations, and impulsivity.” Emotional dysregulation is a term used within the mental health field to denote irrational, poorly modulated emotional responses. DBT emphasizes the psychosocial aspect of treatment and is intended help treat individuals exhibiting self-destructive behaviors and/ or struggling with emotional dysregulation, which is why its efficacy has expanded to other mental health disorders.

Intrusive Thoughts

It is natural for an individual to occasionally experience doubts and/ or fears that lead to certain thoughts and/ or behaviors. These are generally fleeting occurrences that are not uncommonly experienced by neurotypical individuals. Intrusive thoughts are defined as unwanted thoughts, images, impulses, or urges that can occur spontaneously or can be triggered by internal and/ or external stimuli. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, intrusive thoughts affect nearly six million Americans. Intrusive thoughts are sometimes associated with a mental health disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health assert that intrusive thoughts are among the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and can also be a feature of anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)


The most effective method of treatment for individuals with intrusive thoughts is formalized psychotherapy. There are a variety of different types of therapy that can be combined to create the ideal, customized treatment plan. Cognitive behavioral therapy is most used when treating individuals with intrusive thoughts, especially those diagnosed with OCD. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is another common method of treatment for intrusive thoughts. Through ERP therapy an individual learns techniques to directly confront his or her intrusive thoughts. While DBT can be effective for some problems associated with emotion regulation, it is not the first line treatment for intrusive thoughts. However, in people with personality disorders such as OCD, studies have found that DBT can improve quality of life and self-control as well as reduce hopelessness. Depending on several contributing factors, supplementary treatment methods, such as medication, may be incorporated into a treatment plan. With the proper treatment and support an individual can learn to control his or her symptoms and implement healthy coping strategies for navigating and managing any subsequent recurrences. 

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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