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Emotion regulation is one of the four key areas that make up the psychotherapeutic intervention known as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Dialectical behavior therapy is an evidence-based psychotherapy that was developed in the late 1980s by Marsha M. Linehan as a more effective therapeutic method to treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). DBT is founded on the 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. Although DBT was initially developed to be used primarily in the treatment of individuals with BPD, it is now also recognized as an effective treatment method for individuals diagnosed with other mental health illnesses.  

Psychology Today explains that the “goal of DBT is to transform negative thinking patterns and destructive behaviors into positive outcomes.” DBT focuses on teaching skills in four areas, also known as four modules, which include core mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotion regulation. The therapeutic approach consists of three different therapy settings, including weekly individual psychotherapy sessions, weekly group DBT skills therapy sessions, and as-needed phone consultation to provide additional support between the weekly individual and groups sessions. 

Emotion Regulation Strategies

The emotion regulation module in DBT teaches important de-escalation skills and strategies surrounding emotional regulation, as well as provides education regarding the function of emotions. Emotion regulation is defined as “the process by which individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express their feelings. Emotional regulation can be automatic or controlled, conscious or unconscious, and may have effects at one or more points in the emotion producing process.” While there are many, Psychology Today provides the following three most common types of emotion regulation strategies:

  1. Attentional control: which refers to “the cognitive processes that coordinate and direct our attention to specific aspects of our world…”
  2. Cognitive reappraisal: which refers to “a flexible regulatory strategy that draws on cognitive control and executive functioning to reframe stimuli or situations within the environment to change their meaning and emotional valence.”
  3. Response modulation: which refers to “efforts to modify an emotion after it has been fully generated.”

Emotion regulation helps individuals learn to experience strong emotions while simultaneously reducing the intensity of the emotions without reacting impulsively. This DBT module focuses on teaching an array of helpful skills including how to properly identify and label emotions, increase positive emotional events, increase mindfulness to current emotions, identify obstacles in the way of changing emotions, and application techniques addressed during the distress tolerance module. 


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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