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Psychologist Marsha M. Linehan developed dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) in the late 1980s as a means to help better treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). It is an evidence-based psychotherapy that is based on principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but places greater emphasis on the psychosocial aspect of treatment. It combines standard CBT techniques for emotional regulation and reality testing with concepts derived from Buddhist meditative practice such as awareness, mindfulness and attentiveness to current situations and emotional experiences to encourage acceptance. Psychology Today explains that the “goal of DBT is to transform negative thinking patterns and destructive behaviors into positive outcomes.” DBT is not only the gold standard form of treatment for individuals diagnosed with BPD, but according to Behavioral Tech has been found to be effective in treating other mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, eating disorders (e.g., bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, etc.), trans diagnostic emotion dysregulation, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, and more. DBT has become a mainstream form of psychotherapy, with providers spanning all over the world. Specifically, Southern California is home to a plethora of mental health clinicians that are qualified DBT providers.

Therapeutic Settings

Dialectical behavior therapy is conducted in three different therapeutic settings, each with distinct goals. DBT includes weekly individual therapy sessions, weekly DBT group skills training sessions, and as-needed phone coaching. The one-on-one therapy sessions offer an individual with the opportunity to go over any challenging situations that had arisen during the previous week as well as provide a space for the individual to review the lessons learned in the group skills sessions. The weekly DBT group skills training sessions are used to teach and help facilitate fostering skills in four core areas also referred to as the four modules. Phone coaching provides an individual with twenty-four-hour access to support between sessions, should crisis arise.


The entire DBT program takes about six months to complete, as six weeks is allocated to each of the four modules. Longer DBT programs may elect to repeat one or more of the four skills modules. If each of the four modules is repeated it would extend the length of the program to last about twelve months long. 

Four Modules

DBT specifically focuses on providing therapeutic skills in the following four key areas, as provided by the Linehan Institute:

  1. Core Mindfulness: skills focused on improving an individual’s ability to accept and be present in any given moment.
  2. Distress tolerance: skills focused on increasing an individual’s tolerance of negative emotions instead of attempting to avoid or escape them.
  3. Interpersonal effectiveness: skills focused on increasing an individual’s communication strategies.
  4. Emotion regulation: skills focused on helping an individual identify, name, and understand the function of emotions, and increasing one’s ability to regulate emotions. 

After each DBT skills group session the facilitator will assign homework to the participants to help reinforce the information covered during the session. 


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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