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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Marsha M. Linehan originally developed DBT in the late 1980s as a treatment method to better serve suicidal individuals struggling with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Borderline personality disorder is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic mental health disorder. BPD is characterized by unpredictable moods and behaviors and a long-term pattern of unstable relationships. While DBT remains the gold standard method of treatment for BPD, evidence has shown that dialectical behavior therapy has also become useful in treating individuals with other mental health ailments (e.g. eating disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, etc.). Currently, DBT is recognized as an evidence-based form of psychotherapy that is intended to help treat individuals who have difficulty with emotional regulation and/ or are exhibiting self-destructive behaviors.

How It Works

Dialectical behavior therapy is conducted in three different therapeutic settings, each with distinct goals. DBT includes weekly individual therapy sessions, weekly DBT group skills sessions, and phone coaching (between sessions) when needed. The individual therapy sessions provide one-on-one support where an individual can go over any challenging situations that have arisen throughout the week as well as provide a space for the individual to review the lessons learned in the group skills sessions. Phone coaching provides an individual with twenty-four hour access to support between sessions, should crisis arise. The practice of DBT does not change based on one’s geographic location. Hence, an adult that undergoes DBT in LA will receive the same base DBT treatment as is received by an adult elsewhere. 

Four DBT Modules

As explained by Behavioral Tech, individuals undergoing DBT are taught how to effectively change their behavior using strategies that are divided into the following four modules: 

  • Core mindfulness: this module 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. 

The entire DBT program typically lasts about six months long, as six weeks are allocated to focusing on each of the four DBT skills modules. There are some partial options that focus only on certain modules, which would reduce its overall duration. Depending on the needs of the individual, there are some longer options that repeat each module, doubling the time it takes to complete the program. 


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 as a means to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.

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