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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapy approach, falling under the larger umbrella of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is often used in treating various mental health disorders (e.g., depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, etc.), however, research indicated that its effectiveness with chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) was lacking. In the late 1980s, Marsha M. Linehan, who was at the time a psychology/ suicide researcher at the University of Washington, developed DBT to better treat chronically suicidal individuals and those struggling with BPD. The primary goal of DBT, according to Psychology Today, is to “transform negative thinking patterns and destructive behaviors into positive outcomes.” Since its inception, dialectical behavior therapy has been and remains the gold standard method of treatment for individuals diagnosed with BPD. Although DBT was initially developed to treat individuals with BPD, it has become an effective and relied upon the psychotherapeutic method in the treatment of other mental health conditions, including but not limited to substance use disorder, bulimia, bipolar disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and more.

DBT Format

DBT has a multifaceted approach as it includes individual psychotherapy sessions, group skills sessions, and phone coaching. Each therapeutic setting has its own structure and goals. There will often be out-of-session requirements (e.g., group skills homework) to help an individual continue to integrate and practice implementing the information learned into his or her daily life. The group skills sessions focus on teaching and practicing the four modules of DBT, which are: mindfulness (focusing skills), distress tolerance (crisis survival skills), emotional regulation (de-escalation skills), and interpersonal effectiveness (social/ relationship skills). Individual therapy sessions enable a client to process one-on-one issues that may arise during the group skills sessions, clarify any confusion surrounding a skills assignment, and/ or practice personally applying and implementing the DBT skills to his or her own life. The phone-coaching component is intended to provide additional support should a crisis arise between individual and group sessions. 

DBT Skills Groups

Skills groups are an integral component of the DBT process. Skills groups are comprised of other individuals undergoing DBT and experiencing similar concerns. The skills addressed in the group sessions reflect the four main pillars of DBT (mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotion regulation). The associated skills are also worked on in a group setting. This provides a client with the opportunity to implement the skills, tools, and coping mechanisms learned with peers in a safe and controlled environment. The work that occurs during the skills groups continues, as homework assignments that correspond to the DBT skills taught or visited during each DBT group session is regularly assigned. Anyone that participates in DBT will benefit greatly from attending DBT skill groups.

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.