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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapy that is founded on the principals of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and rooted in mindfulness practices based on Zen Buddhist teachings. 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). The term “dialectical” derives from the idea that combining two opposites in therapy (acceptance and change) yields better results than either would on its own, as explained by WebMD

Dialectical behavior therapy focuses on fostering skills in four core areas also referred to as the four modules which are: core mindfulness (focusing skills), distress tolerance (crisis survival skills), emotional regulation (de-escalation skills), and interpersonal effectiveness (social/ relationship skills). The entire DBT program takes around six months to complete, as six weeks are allocated to each module. Longer DBT programs may elect to repeat the skills modules, going through them twice, which would extend the length of the program to last about twelve months long. DBT empowers a client to learn applicable social and emotional skills, healthy coping mechanisms, and useful mindfulness techniques to enable a client to effectively cope with stress, live in the moment, regulate emotions, and improve relationships with others.

DBT Techniques

Dialectical behavior therapy remains the gold standard method of treatment for those diagnosed with BPD. Its clinical application has expanded and it is currently viewed as an effective treatment method for other mental health disorders (e.g., depression, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, bipolar disorder, substance use disorder, etc.). The techniques used in DBT include:

  • Group therapy: group DBT skills training sessions focus on teaching and building upon behavioral skills in each of the four modules. 
  • Individual therapy: weekly individual therapy sessions provide one-on-one support where an individual can go over any challenging situations that have arisen throughout the week as well as provide a space for the individual to review the lessons learned in the DBT group skills training sessions with his or her clinician.
  • Phone coaching: as-needed coaching provides an individual with twenty-four-hour access to support between sessions, should crisis arise.

Homework is often assigned after each group DBT skills training session to help further facilitate understanding the information taught. Studies have found that certain improvements, can be fully or partially attributed to learning and implementing DBT skills (e.g., improvements in emotion regulation, reduced experiential avoidance, minimized assertive anger, etc.). Behavioral Tech explains that “DBT works because it successfully increases clients’ ability to use effective coping skills, particularly strategies for expressing, experiencing, and regulating intense emotions.” Dialectical behavior therapy can help individuals that have a difficult time modulating strong emotions and/ or those that are emotionally vulnerable.

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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