Skip to main content

Dialectical behavior therapy, also known as DBT, is a form of evidence-based psychotherapy that is founded on the principals of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Psychologist Marsha M. Linehan developed DBT in the late 1980s as a more effective therapeutic method to treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). DBT places primary emphasis on the psychosocial aspects of treatment. 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. 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.

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. 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 purpose of DBT is to provide clients with new skills to manage painful emotions and reduce conflicts in relationships. 

Emotion Regulation: De-escalation Skills

Emotional 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.” The emotion regulation module in DBT teaches important skills surrounding emotional regulation, as well as providing education regarding the function of emotions. The three types of emotional regulation strategies include:

  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.”

During this DBT module individuals will learn a variety 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 the application of distress tolerance techniques. Emotion regulation helps individuals learn to experience strong emotions while simultaneously reducing the intensity of the emotions without acting impulsively on them. 


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.

Back to top