What Is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

DBT or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on problem solving and acceptance strategies. DBT was created to treat severe mental health disorders that had not seen success with other types of therapies. DBT is based on the philosophical process called dialectics. Dialectics teaches that everything is composed of opposites and change occurs when there is a “dialogue” between the opposites.

In a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy session, a patient and therapist work together to resolve the contradiction between acceptance and change in order to bring about a desired shift in behavior. The therapy is structured around an analysis of problematic behavior and strengthening emotional regulation and cognitive control.

Four ways of enhancing life skills and reducing problematic behavior are taught in DBT including distress tolerance, emotion regulation, mindfulness, and interpersonal effectiveness. The goal of DBT is to teach people to regulate their emotions, improve their relationships with others, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and to life in the moment.

Benefits of DBT Therapy

DBT therapy has been shown to be helpful in treating both substance abuse disorder as well as many different mental health conditions. Individuals suffering from substance abuse or mental health disorders often do not have the skills to solve problems that lead to destructive behaviors. DBT helps them to replace those behaviors with skills that are healthy and productive.

Distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and mindfulness are skills that are taught in DBT which are essential in recovery. DBT therapy also provides clients with skills to decrease conflict in their relationships with others, and teaches them ways to manage painful or uncomfortable emotions.

Diagram showing the concept of DBT Therapy, Mindfulness can help with emotional regulation and therefore also help with personal relationships.

One of the leading causes of relapse in early recovery is stress. Distress tolerance teaches individuals how to handle and manage their distress rather than looking for a way to escape from it by using a substance or acting in a destructive manner. DBT also teaches emotional regulation. Managing emotions can often be a difficult task without the use of drugs or alcohol for those in early recovery. Emotional regulation teaches how to understand and manage unwanted feelings so that emotional vulnerability and suffering can be reduced. Another DBT practice, mindfulness, helps individuals to stay in the present moment instead of worrying about the future or thinking about the past. Being aware and engaged with one’s environment and state is helpful in reducing stress and staying focused on recovery and treatment.

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