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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapy that is founded on the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but places greater emphasis on the psychosocial aspect of treatment. Unlike CBT, it can be difficult to learn DBT techniques by yourself. Psychologist Marsha M. Linehan developed dialectical behavior therapy in the late 1980s as a means to more effectively treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). It has since been rendered an effective method of treatment for many other mental health conditions. The philosophical perspective of dialectics, balancing opposites, influences the DBT process. DBT is an evidence-based psychotherapy that combines techniques from western cognitive behavioral therapy, psycho-educational modules, and eastern mindfulness-based practices to foster the systematic learning of new emotional coping skills. Although it is possible for you to do DBT on your own, it is not recommended.

The DBT Process

Dialectical behavior therapy is a multifaceted, rigidly structured therapeutic approach. It is comprised of three distinct therapeutic settings, which include: weekly individual psychotherapy sessions, weekly DBT skills training group therapy sessions, and as-needed phone coaching. DBT relies on supportive resources, including handouts, worksheets, and workbooks to further highlight DBT skills that directly relate to topics covered in the different DBT group skills training therapy sessions. To provide additional opportunities for participants to continue to practice implementing the learned skills, there are a variety of DBT handouts that are assigned at different times throughout the program.

The primary goal of DBT, according to Psychology Today, is to “transform negative thinking patterns and destructive behaviors into positive outcomes.” DBT focuses on enhancing the capabilities of each participant by teaching behavioral skills related to the four modules that make up the pillars of DBT, which include:

  • Core mindfulness: the practice of being fully present and aware in the moment 
  • Distress tolerance: becoming tolerant of pain in difficult situations instead of attempting to change it
  • Emotion regulation: decreasing emotional impulsivity, learning to manage and shift intense, problematic emotions   
  • Interpersonal effectiveness: authentically advocating for one’s wants and needs in a relationship in a way that is both self-respecting and non-damaging

Weekly one-on-one therapy sessions are intended to provide personalized support for individuals with processing experiences, addressing issues, navigating challenges, identifying successes, and clarifying any confusion regarding a DBT skill. Weekly DBT group skills training therapy sessions are used to teach and help facilitate fostering skills in the four core areas. Each component of the DBT process is integral to its success, as the skills focused on in each of the four modules are reinforced distinctly through the three therapeutic settings. The DBT process can be overwhelming and yields the most effective results when done through a formal course with the support of a qualified mental health practitioner.

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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