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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). A Borderline personality disorder is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic mental health disorder. BPD is characterized by unpredictable moods and behaviors and a long-term pattern of unstable relationships. While DBT remains the gold standard type of psychotherapy used for treating individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder who have thoughts of suicide and self-harm, it has also been noted as an effective method of treatment for other mental health conditions and associated symptoms.

DBT Basics

Dialectical behavior therapy is conducted in three different therapeutic settings, each with individual goals. DBT includes weekly individual therapy sessions, weekly DBT group skills training sessions, and as-needed phone coaching. The one-on-one therapy sessions offer an individual the opportunity to go over any challenging situations that had arisen during the previous week as well as provide a space for the individual to review the lessons learned in the group skills sessions. The weekly DBT group skills training sessions are used to teach and help facilitate fostering skills in four core areas also referred to as the four modules (core mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotion regulation). Each module highlights distinct and specific skills that build upon each other. Phone coaching provides an individual with twenty-four-hour access to support between sessions, should a crisis arise. The entire DBT program takes about six months to complete, as six weeks are allocated to each of the four modules. 

What Does DBT Treat?

DBT is currently a universally recognized form of psychotherapy that is intended to help treat individuals experiencing emotional dysregulation and/ or, those that are exhibiting self-destructive behaviors. Emotional dysregulation is a term used within the mental health field to denote irrational, poorly modulated emotional responses. Verywell Mind explains that through DBT individuals develop new thinking and behavioral skills that are guided by the following:

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

Dialectical behavior therapy teaches applicable social and emotional skills, healthy coping mechanisms, and use mindfulness techniques to enable an individual to effectively cope with stress, live in the moment, regulate emotions, and improve relationships with others. 

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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