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Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a type of cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy. Marsha M. Linehan originally developed DBT in the late 1980s as a method to better treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). DBT uses a combination of strategies from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and a mindfulness-based approach, while placing greater emphasis on the psychosocial aspects of treatment. Although DBT was initially developed as a means to be used primarily in the treatment of individuals with BPD, it is now also recognized as an effective treatment method for individuals diagnosed with a variety of mental health illnesses, particularly those that involve serious emotion dysregulation such as depression, eating disorders, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorder, and more. Learning the basics of DBT is helpful in understanding how DBT can be a beneficial therapeutic modality for couple’s therapy. 

DBT Basics

Dialectical behavior therapy occurs in three distinct settings: individual psychotherapeutic sessions, DBT group skills training sessions, and as-needed phone coaching. Weekly one-on-one therapy sessions serve as helpful check-ins and provide an individual with an opportunity to focus on and address specific issues and solutions that had surfaced during the previous week. DBT group skills sessions are held on a weekly basis and as explained by the Linehan Institute focus on the following four main skill areas:

  1. Interpersonal effectiveness: teaching skills related to effectively interacting with others and advocating for one’s needs within a relationship in a way that is non-damaging and productive. 
  2. Distress tolerance: teaching skills related to accepting, tolerating, and learning from suffering.
  3. Emotion regulation: teaching skills related to managing and dealing with primary emotional reactions prior to them leading to distressing secondary reactions. 
  4. Core Mindfulness: teaching skills related to remaining aware and accepting in the present moment.

Around six weeks are allocated to each of the four DBT skills areas, making the duration of the entire dialectical behavior therapy program last about twenty-four weeks long. 

Couples Therapy

Every couple has a unique dynamic. There are countless reasons why couples decide to participate in couples therapy. Couples therapy is focused on helping each party learn to effectively work through challenges, gain a deeper understanding of their relationship, and cultivate healthier ways of relating to and communicating with one another. The general needs of the couple will directly inform which type or types of therapeutic modalities a mental health clinician will incorporate into the couple’s therapy treatment plan. A couple’s therapist will provide an emotionally safe environment and work with the couple to better their relationship by challenging unhealthy dynamics and enhance the couple’s ability to recognize and resolve conflicts by introducing, teaching and facilitating healthy methods of communication and effective conflict resolution tactics. The four main skill areas focused in DBT can not only help individuals learn to become better partners, but the non-judgmental approach promotes acceptance and validation of each partner as well as one self.


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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