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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapy that is founded on the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), but places greater emphasis on the psychosocial aspect of treatment. Psychologist Marsha M. Linehan developed dialectical behavior therapy in the late 1980s as a means to help better treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Psychology Today explains that the “goal of DBT is to transform negative thinking patterns and destructive behaviors into positive outcomes.” Since its inception, DBT has remained the gold standard form of treatment for individuals diagnosed with BPD. Its efficacy has expanded to other ailments, and according to Behavioral Tech, it is currently noted as helpful in treating mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, eating disorders (e.g., bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, etc.), transdiagnostic emotion dysregulation, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, and more. DBT is unique in that 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. 

Four Modules and Six Main Points

DBT specifically focuses on providing therapeutic skills in four key areas, also known as modules, which include: 

  • Core Mindfulness: skills focused on improving an individual’s ability to accept and be present in any given moment.
  • Distress tolerance: skills focused on increasing an individual’s tolerance of negative emotions instead of attempting to avoid or escape them.
  • Interpersonal effectiveness: skills focused on increasing an individual’s communication strategies.
  • Emotion regulation: skills focused on helping an individual identify, name, and understand the function of emotions, and increasing one’s ability to regulate emotions. 

Each module highlights distinct and specific skills that build upon each other and are aligned with the six main points of DBT. Verywell Mind explains that through DBT individuals develop new thinking and behavioral skills that are guided by the following six points:

  1. Acceptance and change: accept circumstances to make positive changes
  2. Behavioral: analyze problems or destructive behavior patterns and replace them with more effective and healthy ones
  3. Cognitive: changing thoughts and beliefs that are not effective or helpful
  4. Skill sets: hone new skills to enhance capabilities
  5. Collaboration: improve communicating effectively and working well as a team with others
  6. Support: recognize one’s own strengths, positive attributes, and features to help others

Dialectical behavior therapy is conducted in three different therapeutic settings, each with distinct goals. DBT includes weekly individual therapy sessions, weekly DBT group skills training sessions, and as-needed phone coaching. The entire DBT program takes about six months to complete, as six weeks are allocated to each of the four modules.


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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