Dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that focuses on helping people change unhealthy behavior patterns. DBT can be used for certain mental illnesses, including borderline personality disorder, depression, and substance abuse. Below is a spotlight on what is dialectical behavior therapy, from its history to how it works and four core skills.
What is the history of DBT?
Dialectical behavior therapy dates back to the 1980s. It was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan, a psychology professor at the University of Washington.
Dr. Linehan originally designed DBT as a treatment for borderline personality disorder (BPD), which is a mental illness characterized by impulsivity, mood swings, and difficulty regulating emotions. Since its inception, DBT and other forms of CBT have been adapted to treat other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse.
How does dialectical behavior therapy work?
DBT is typically provided in weekly individual therapy sessions and weekly group skills training sessions. In individual therapy sessions, patients work with their therapist to identify and modify negative thought patterns and associated actions.
In group skills training sessions, patients learn coping and problem-solving skills, such as how to deal with difficult emotions without resorting to self-destructive behaviors like drinking or drug use. DBT has been shown to be an effective treatment for various mental health disorders, including decreased substance abuse in patients with borderline personality disorder.
Furthermore, one study found DBT patients had reduced frequency of suicide attempts, hospitalization in psychiatric facilities, and ER visits, as compared to treatment-by-community over a 12-month treatment period. That included the 12-month follow-up afterward, too.
In addition, one study found that dialectical behavior therapy’s emotion regulation and mindfulness can prevent depression relapse. This supports the learning of DBT skills to help reduce depressive symptoms in certain people.
What are 4 DBT skills?
Let’s look next at the four essential skills involved in dialectical behavior therapy:
The cornerstone of DBT is mindfulness, which encourages individuals to become aware of their thoughts and feelings without judgment or attachment. Mindfulness helps people stay present during difficult situations by encouraging them to observe their experiences without trying to change them or judge them as good or bad. This practice can help individuals learn how to be mindful when faced with challenging emotions and difficult choices.
2. Distress tolerance
Distress tolerance teaches individuals how to cope with uncomfortable emotions without resorting to unhealthy behaviors such as substance abuse, self-injury, or disordered eating. This skill teaches individuals how to accept reality for what it is instead of trying to escape it or make it worse through unhealthy coping mechanisms.
3. Emotion regulation
Emotion regulation encourages people to recognize their emotions before they react impulsively or try to suppress them. Through this skill, individuals learn how to identify their emotions accurately and respond appropriately while still honoring their needs and values. This skill also teaches people how to identify patterns in their emotional responses so that they can recognize potential triggers ahead of time and develop strategies for managing those triggers more effectively when they arise.
4. Interpersonal effectiveness
Interpersonal effectiveness involves learning how to communicate assertively to get your needs met while still respecting other people’s feelings and boundaries. This skill teaches people ways to say “no” without feeling guilty, ask for what they need, deal with criticism, set healthy boundaries, and give constructive feedback. It also teaches individuals how to express anger appropriately, apologize sincerely, negotiate win-win solutions, and build strong relationships with others.
Summary: What is dialectical behavior therapy?
If you are struggling with a mental health disorder or engaging in self-destructive behaviors like cutting or using drugs, talk with a medical or mental health professional immediately. This expert may suggest dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) for you.
DBT is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy that focuses on helping people change unhealthy behavior patterns. It was initially developed as a treatment for borderline personality disorder but has since been adapted to treat other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse. If you think you might benefit from DBT, talk to your doctor or mental health professional about whether this type of therapy is suitable for you.
Please note: This post does not replace medical advice. Always see a professional, such as your GP or a therapist, to determine if it is tight for you as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.