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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a comprehensive, evidence-based treatment that was originally developed as a treatment method for borderline personality disorder (BPD). In the late 1980s, psychologist Marsha M. Linehan developed DBT, after the result of her own transformation that occurred in 1967. DBT combines standard cognitive behavioral therapy (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. It emphasizes the psychosocial aspects of treatment and promotes the systematic learning of new emotional coping skills.

Dialectical behavior therapy is made up of three distinct therapeutic settings, which include: weekly group DBT skills training sessions, weekly individual psychotherapy sessions, and as-needed phone coaching. The DBT group skills training sessions focus on four primary behavioral skill modules, which include: core mindfulness (focusing skills), distress tolerance (crisis survival skills), emotion regulation (de-escalation skills), and interpersonal effectiveness (relationship/ people skills). Individual therapy sessions provide one-on-one attention to help the person go over skills learned in the group sessions. It enables an individual to further explore and dissect how the processes of implementing the skills have been effective throughout the week as well as identify areas that may need further attention. Phone coaching is available as support between sessions should a crisis arise.

Does It Work?

It would be inaccurate to claim that DBT works for everyone. Every individual is different and will have a unique set of needs. While DBT can work for some individuals, it may be ineffective for others. According to Behavioral Tech, DBT is effective because it “assumes that many of the problems exhibited by clients are caused by skills deficits.” Studies have found that certain improvements, some of which are listed below, can be fully or partially attributed to learning and implementing DBT skills:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) asserts that DBT is effective in “reducing psychiatric hospitalization, substance use, and suicidal behavior.” Research has also found DBT to significantly reduce hospital stays, self-injurious behaviors, and the severity of borderline personality disorder symptoms. Behavioral Tech goes on to explain that “DBT works because it successfully increases clients’ ability to use effective coping skills, particularly strategies for expressing, experiencing, and regulating intense emotions.” DBT remains the gold-standard form of treatment for individuals with BPD and has since been recognized as an effective method of treatment for a wide range of other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorder (SUD), eating disorders, and more. It is, however, important to note that most mental health practitioners develop tailored treatment plans that cater to the nuanced needs of the individual, and often include a variety of therapeutic modalities.

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, or 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.