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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapy that is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), placing greater emphasis on the psychosocial aspect of therapy. In the late 1980, Psychologist Marsha M. Linehan developed DBT as a means to better treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). DBT 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. DBT specifically focuses on providing therapeutic skills in the following four key areas, provided by the Linehan Institute:

  • Core mindfulness: the practice of being fully present and aware in the moment 
  • Distress tolerance: becoming tolerant of pain in difficult situations instead of attempting to change it
  • Emotion regulation: decreasing emotional impulsivity, learning to manage and shift intense, problematic emotions   
  • Interpersonal effectiveness: authentically advocating for one’s wants and needs in a relationship in a way that is both self-respecting and non-damaging

Although DBT was originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder, it has since been rendered an effective method of treatment for many other mental health conditions, and is used all over the world, including Southern California.

DBT Format

Dialectical behavior therapy is comprised of three distinct therapeutic settings: weekly individual psychotherapy sessions, weekly group DBT skills training sessions, and as-needed phone coaching. One-on-one therapy sessions offer an individual with the opportunity to identify prohibitive, damaging, and maladaptive thoughts and behaviors, review lessons learned in the group skills sessions, and go over any challenging situations that had arisen during the previous week. The weekly DBT group skills training sessions are used to teach and help facilitate fostering skills in four core areas. They provide a safe, controlled environment for the participants to practice implementing the newly learned DBT skills. During the time between individual therapy sessions and group therapy sessions, a client may encounter difficult to navigate situations and/ or find him or herself in crises. Phone coaching is used during these times to offer in-the-moment support and guidance with managing difficult situations that arise in everyday life.

Supplemental Resources 

DBT relies on supportive resources, including handouts, worksheets, and workbooks to help reinforce the skills taught during group DBT skills training sessions. There are certain DBT training handouts that directly relate to specific topics covered in the different DBT group skills training sessions. As such, there are a variety of DBT handouts that are assigned at different times throughout the program. Training handouts provide additional opportunities for participants to continue to practice implementing the learned skills. Being an evidence-based form of psychotherapy, DBT is continuously evolving, and while DBT handouts and worksheets are integral to the DBT process, they may change over time.


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.

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