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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an rigidly structured, multifaceted, evidence-based psychotherapeutic approach that is founded on the principals of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and rooted in mindfulness practices based on Zen Buddhist teachings. The philosophical perspective of dialectics greatly influences the DBT process. More specifically, the idea that combining two opposites in therapy (acceptance and change) yields more effective results than either would on its own. DBT can help an individual learn applicable social and emotional skills, healthy coping mechanisms, and useful mindfulness techniques to effectively cope with stress, live in the moment, regulate emotions, and improve relationships with others.

Dialectical behavior therapy is carried out in three distinct therapeutic settings including: weekly individual psychotherapy sessions; weekly DBT skills training group sessions, and access to twenty-four-hour support between sessions via phone coaching. Within each setting, dialectical behavior therapy focuses on teaching skills in four primary areas, known as the four modules of DBT, which are: core mindfulness (focusing skills), distress tolerance (crisis survival skills), emotional regulation (de-escalation skills), and interpersonal effectiveness (social/ relationship skills). Each module highlights distinct and specific skills that build upon each other and are individually and collectively integral to the success of this therapeutic intervention. 

Individual therapy sessions provide a client and his or her clinician with the opportunity to co-create behavior plans that incorporate long- and short-term goals to improve self-worth, establish self-compassion, acceptance, and cultivate a positive self-identity. These one-on-one therapy sessions are empowering and help reinforce applicable social and emotional skills. The weekly DBT group skills training sessions are used to teach and help facilitate fostering skills in each of the four modules. They provide a forum for clients to practice implementing skills learned in both group and individual therapy sessions. As-needed phone-coaching is used to provide access to additional support should crisis arise between individual and group sessions.

Psychologist Marsha M. Linehan developed DBT in the late 1980s as a means to more effectively treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Dialectical behavior therapy can help individuals that have a difficult time modulating strong emotions and/ or those that are emotionally vulnerable. Psychology Today explains that the “goal of DBT is to transform negative thinking patterns and destructive behaviors into positive outcomes.” Regardless of a person’s gender identity, sexual orientation, age, and ethnicity/ race, research indicates that DBT can be an effective therapeutic intervention. Currently, DBT is not only considered to be the gold standard form of treatment for individuals diagnosed with BPD but has become an effective and relied upon psychotherapeutic method of treatment for many other mental health conditions and associated symptoms.

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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