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Yes, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can be used to treat adults. It is an evidence-based psychotherapy that emphasizes the psychosocial aspect of treatment. Psychologist Marsha M. Linehan developed DBT in the late 1980s as a means to help better treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). DBT 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. Since its inception, dialectical behavior therapy has been and remains the gold standard method of treatment for individuals diagnosed with BPD. Its efficacy has since expanded to other ailments. The purpose of DBT is to teach individuals applicable skills that enable them to effectively manage painful emotions and decrease conflict in relationships. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recognize DBT to be an effective method of treatment for a wide range of other mental health disorders, including, but not limited to the following:

Research indicates that DBT can be effective regardless of a person’s gender identity, sexual orientation, age, and ethnicity/ race.

How It Works

Dialectical behavior therapy is conducted in three different therapeutic settings, each with distinct goals. The DBT process includes weekly individual therapy sessions, weekly DBT group skills training sessions, and as-needed phone coaching between sessions. Within each of these setting, as explained by Behavioral Tech, adults 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: this module focuses on increasing an individual’s tolerance of negative emotions rather than trying to avoid or escape them. The skills in this module help individuals learn various techniques for handling crisis (e.g., distraction, self-soothing, improving the moment, etc.). 
  • Emotion regulation: this module 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 unwanted emotions, without impulsively acting on them.
  • Interpersonal effectiveness: this module focuses on increasing an individual’s communication strategies. The skills taught in this module help an individual learn to identify their own needs 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.

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.