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DBT stands for dialectical behavior therapy. DBT is an evidence-based psychotherapy treatment that was developed by Marsha M. Linehan, in the late 1980s. It was originally developed, to help treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), and is now recognized as an effective therapeutic method for treating a wide range of other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorder (SUD), eating disorders, and more. The Child Mind Institute explains that DBT is “an intensive, structured kind of therapy that can help kids and teens who have a lot of trouble handling their strong emotions.” DBT is founded on the principles 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. 

DBT Basics

DBT has a multifaceted approach that is comprised of weekly one-on-one psychotherapy sessions, weekly group DBT skills training sessions, and as-needed phone coaching. Each therapeutic setting has its own structure and goals. The DBT group skills training sessions focus on teaching and practicing the four modules of DBT, which are: core mindfulness (focusing skills), distress tolerance (crisis survival skills), emotional regulation (de-escalation skills), and interpersonal effectiveness (social/ relationship skills). The safe environment of DBT group skills training sessions allows clients the ability to practice implementing skills learned in both group and individual therapy sessions. The structure of these group therapy sessions also teaches and reinforces learning important behavioral skills from peers as well as encourages new, healthy ways of interacting with others.

Individual therapy sessions provide a client and his or her clinician with the opportunity to co-create behavior plans that incorporate long and short-term goals as well as delve deeper into and process the client’s life journey while also learning skills to improve self-worth, establish self-compassion, acceptance, and a positive self-identity. These one-on-one therapy sessions are empowering and help reinforce applicable social and emotional skills. As-needed phone coaching is used to provide access to additional support should a crisis arise between individual and group sessions. 

DBT Goals

The primary goal of DBT, according to Psychology Today, is to “transform negative thinking patterns and destructive behaviors into positive outcomes.” The philosophical perspective of dialectics, balancing opposites, influences the DBT process. A mental health clinician offering DBT services works with a young person to identify ways to hold two seemingly opposite perspectives simultaneously. This, in turn, promotes balance and minimizes the tendencies to think in absolutes (e.g., viewing all in black and white, all-or-nothing style of thinking, etc.). DBT encourages an inclusive worldview and perspective (both- and) instead of an exclusive (either- or) outlook on life. Dialectical behavior therapy helps teach young clients healthy coping mechanisms and useful techniques for managing stress, regulating emotions, and improving relationships with others. 


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.