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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a form of psychotherapy that combines the practices of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with concepts derived from Buddhist meditative practice. DBT places greater emphasis on the psychosocial aspect of treatment. Marsha M. Linehan developed DBT in the late 1980s as a means to better treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Since its inception, dialectical behavior therapy has been and remains the gold standard method of treatment for individuals diagnosed with BPD. Although DBT was originally developed to treat individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, evidence has shown it to be a successful treatment method for individuals diagnosed with other mental health ailments. The practice of DBT does not change based on one’s geographic location. Hence, an individual that undergoes DBT in Southern California will receive the same base DBT treatment as is received by an individual elsewhere. The goals of the DBT approach are to provide individuals with new skills to effectively manage painful and difficult emotions and to minimize conflict in relationships. 

DBT Basics

Dialectical behavior therapy is made up of three distinct therapeutic settings, which include: weekly group DBT skills sessions, weekly individual psychotherapy sessions, and as-needed phone coaching. The DBT group skills sessions focus 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 has been effective throughout the week as well as identify areas that may need further attention. Phone coaching is available as support between sessions should crisis arise. 


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. 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:

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.” While DBT can prove to be highly effective for some individuals, it may be ineffective for others. Many mental health practitioners develop tailored treatment plans that cater to the nuanced needs of the individual, and often include a variety of therapeutic modalities. Every individual is different and will have a unique set of needs when it comes to the treatment of a mental health condition.


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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