Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)

What is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy?

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), developed by Marsha Linehan PhD at the University of Washington, is a type of psychotherapy (sometimes called “talking therapy”) for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). DBT is a cognitive behavioural therapy, meaning that it focuses on the role of cognition (e.g., thoughts and beliefs) and behaviours (e.g., actions) in the development and the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). DBT includes some changes to the traditional cognitive behavioural elements of therapy in order to help specifically reduce the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is a treatment that focuses on helping patients to better manage their emotions, and develop skills to cope with problems and negative feelings. Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is a specific type of cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy developed in the late 1980s by psychologist Marsha M. Linehanto help better treat borderline personality disorder. Since its development, it has also been used for the treatment of other kinds of mental health disorders.

What conditions does DBT treat?

DBT was originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder. However, research shows that DBT has also been used successfully to treat people experiencing depression, bulimia, binge-eating, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic-stress disorder, and substance abuse. DBT may be used to treat suicidal and other self-destructive behaviours. It teaches patients skills to cope with, and change, unhealthy behaviours.


Can DBT be used for anxiety?

This can be an important skill for individuals who are either socially anxious or who are simply stressed as a result of challenging interpersonal situations. In summary, the key components of DBT can be used to enhance traditional cognitive behavioural therapy for anxiety disorders.


Does DBT therapy really work?

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is a treatment that focuses on helping patients to better manage their emotions, and develop skills to cope with problems and negative feelings.


Research Support for DBT

DBT was the first psychotherapy shown to be effective in treating BPD in controlled clinical trials — the most rigorous type of clinical research. While DBT is no longer the only therapy to have shown effectiveness in controlled trials, it has grown a large evidence base and is considered one of the best treatments for BPD in terms of documented success rates.


Theoretical Basis for DBT

DBT is based on Dr. Linehan’s theory that the core problem in BPD is emotion dysregulation, resulting from mixing biology (e.g., genetic and other biological risk factors) and an emotionally unstable childhood environment (e.g., where caregivers punish, trivialise or respond erratically to the child’s expression of emotion) together. The focus of DBT is on helping the client learn and apply skills that will decrease emotion dysregulation and unhealthy attempts to cope with strong emotions.


What to Expect in DBT

Usually, DBT includes a combination of group skills training, individual psychotherapy and phone coaching, although there are exceptions. Patients in DBT are asked to monitor their symptoms and use of learned skills daily, while their progress is tracked throughout therapy.

4 main skills covered in DBT training

Mindfulness Meditation Skills

These skills centre on learning to observe, describe and participate in all experiences (including thoughts, sensations, emotions and things happening externally in the environment) without judging these experiences as “good” or “bad.” These are considered “core” skills that are necessary in order to implement the other DBT skills successfully.


Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills

The focus of this skill module is on learning to successfully assert your needs and to manage conflict in relationships.


Distress Tolerance Skills

The distress tolerance skills module promotes learning ways to accept and tolerate distress without doing anything that will make the distress worse in the long run (e.g., engaging in self-harm).


Emotion Regulation Skills

In this module, patients learn to identify and manage emotional reactions.

Are you ready to make a change?

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