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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapy that is based on principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but places greater emphasis on the psychosocial aspect of treatment. Psychologist Marsha M. Linehan developed DBT in the late 1980s as a means to help better treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). 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. Since its inception, dialectical behavior therapy has been and continues to be the gold standard method of treatment for individuals diagnosed with BPD. DBT can be effective for individuals of all ages, and although it was originally developed to treat individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, evidence has shown it to be a successful treatment method for individuals struggling with other mental health ailments.


The primary goal of DBT, according to Psychology Today, is to “transform negative thinking patterns and destructive behaviors into positive outcomes.” Dialectical behavior therapy is made up of three distinct therapeutic settings, which include weekly DBT skills group therapy sessions, weekly individual psychotherapy sessions, and as-needed phone coaching. One-on-one therapy sessions are intended to provide personalized support for individuals with processing experiences, addressing issues, navigating challenges, and identifying successes that occurred in the previous week. Each component of the DBT process is integral to its success. 

The Four Modules

DBT skills group therapy sessions are focused on enhancing the capabilities of each participant by teaching behavioral skills related to the four modules that make up the pillars of DBT. They include the following, provided by the Linehan Institute:

  1. Core Mindfulness (focusing skills): the practice of being fully aware and wholly present in the current moment
  2. Distress Tolerance (crisis survival skills): learning tools and techniques to accept, find meaning through, and tolerate distress
  3. Interpersonal Effectiveness (relationship/ people skills): 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 (de-escalation skills): learning to recognize, label, and adjust emotions to assist in regulating emotions and subsequently changing reactions to events

In DBT skills group therapy sessions the clinician running the session will follow the lessons provided in the DBT curriculum, teach the skills, and facilitate activities to allow the participants to practice implementing the newly learned DBT skills. These group sessions offer participants an emotionally safe environment to begin to implement the DBT skills alongside others working on similar issues. Group members are encouraged to share their experiences and provide mutual support, which can be invaluable to the therapeutic process. 


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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