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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 initially developed as a means to be used primarily in the treatment of individuals with BPD, it is now recognized as an effective treatment method for individuals diagnosed with a variety of mental health illnesses, particularly those that involve serious emotion dysregulation such as depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorder (SUD), and more. 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 entire DBT process usually lasts about six months long, though depending on the needs of the participants the process can last a shorter or longer length of time. 

Group DBT Skills Sessions

The DBT skills group sessions are conducted by a qualified mental health professional who will follow the lessons provided in the DBT curriculum that teaches the DBT skills as well as provides relevant exercises for participants to practice the skills learned. Group members are encouraged to share their experiences and provide mutual support, which can be invaluable to the therapeutic process. DBT group sessions specifically focus on providing therapeutic skills in the following four key areas, as provided by the Linehan Institute:

  1. Mindfulness: the practice of being fully aware and wholly present in the current moment
  2. Distress Tolerance: learning tools and techniques to effectively tolerate pain that may arise from difficult situations, instead of attempting to avoid and/ or change it
  3. Interpersonal Effectiveness: learning assertive communication methods that enable an individual to engage with others in a way that maintains self-respect and simultaneously strengthens relationships
  4. Emotion Regulation: explores strategies that aid in changing unwanted emotions, by way of managing and/ or shifting the intense emotions that may be causing problems in one’s life

DBT skills group sessions generally last about two hours and are often held on a weekly basis. After each DBT skills group session the facilitator will assign homework to the participants to help reinforce the information taught during the session. 

Individual Therapy Sessions

The individual therapy sessions are used to ensure the individual in treatment is able focus on all his or her nuanced mental health needs. These sessions are used to emphasize problem-solving behaviors and provide the individual with an emotionally safe environment to process and address any problems that arise in the individual’s life. 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. The combination of one-on-one therapy sessions and the DBT skills group sessions help an individual in treatment learn, apply, and master the DBT skills.


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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