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Interpersonal effectiveness is one of the four modules, or main skills areas, of the evidence-based psychotherapeutic approach known as dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). Marsha M. Linehan originally developed DBT in the late 1980s as a method to better treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). DBT is founded on the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) but places greater emphasis on the psychosocial aspects of treatment. It combines standard CBT techniques for emotional regulation and reality-testing with concepts derived from Eastern mindfulness techniques (e.g., awareness, mindfulness, and attentiveness to current situations and emotional experiences) to encourage acceptance and change. 

Dialectical behavior therapy is comprised of three distinct therapeutic settings, including weekly individual psychotherapy (one-on-one therapy) sessions; weekly DBT skills group sessions, and access to as-needed twenty-four-hour support between sessions via phone coaching. The pillars of DBT include learning skill sets in the following four areas: interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and core mindfulness. The DBT process typically lasts about six months long, as six weeks are allocated to each module. The primary goal of the interpersonal effectiveness module in DBT is to help a person learn how to get what they need without damaging themselves or others.

Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills

The interpersonal effectiveness module is intended to teach people skills to navigate interpersonal problem solving, improve assertiveness, and hone social skills to modify aversive environments and to realize goals in interpersonal encounters. These skills involve helping individuals identify and understand their own needs in a relationship. The objectives of this module include learning skills related to:

  • Balancing priorities (things that are important to you) versus demands (things that other people want you to do): examples include practicing reducing low priority demands, asking others for help, say no, when necessary, etc.
  • Attending to relationships: avoid taking relationship for granted, as they can create undue stress and emotional vulnerability; practice resolving conflicts before they become overwhelming, use relationship skills to head off problems, etc.
  • Building mastery and self-respect: interact in a way that makes you feel competent and effective; be guided by your own moral compass not others, stand up for yourself, do not shy away from expressing your opinions and beliefs, etc.

There are a variety of ways to draw from the interpersonal effectiveness framework and integrate DBT skills from this module into one’s everyday life. Interpersonal effectiveness skills involve helping individuals identify and understand their own needs in a relationship. These skills also help an individual learn to cultivate, engage, and maintain healthy relationships with others that enable one’s needs to be met. This includes advocating for one’s needs and communicating in a way that is non-damaging, assertive, maintains self-respect, and strengthens relationships. 


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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