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Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)?

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy connects cognitive and behavioral therapies as a way of helping a man or woman learn and adapt healthier methods of coping with painful emotions, often through acceptance and change. The basic theory of this psychotherapy approach focuses on individuals who are prone to reacting in a more extreme and out-of-the ordinary approach towards emotional circumstances.

This form of therapy was originally established and developed by Marsha M. Linehan, a psychology researcher at the University of Washington, as an approach and technique in treating patients suffering from borderline personality disorders. The essence of DBT is founded on four skill sets intended to assist in improving coping skills. Through DBT, patients are educated in ways of increasing self-awareness, how to regulate self-defeating thoughts, ways to transform black-or-white thinking, and how to better manage conflict and stress. More recently, DBT has been adapted by leading eating disorder centers as a key treatment modality.

Types of DBT Therapy

The common types of DBT therapy include:

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    • Individual weekly psychotherapy sessions-Therapist and patient work toward learning and developing basic social skills and will usually follow a treatment target plan.
    • Weekly group therapy sessions-Often led by a trained DBT therapist, participants work together towards increased social support and application of DBT skills.

    Neither component of DBT therapy is intended to be utilized solely. The individual component is necessary as it serves an important role in keeping suicidal urges or uncontrolled emotion issues from disturbing group sessions. Likewise, group sessions are valuable as they teach skills unique to DBT as well as allow for an opportunity to practice emotional regulation and behavior in a social context.

    Components of DBT

    DBT also has four essential modules on which these therapy techniques are founded upon:

    • Mindfulness: Observation, description, and participation are the fundamental mindfulness skills.
    • Interpersonal Effectiveness: Includes effective methods for asking for what one needs, saying no, and strategies for dealing with interpersonal conflict.
    • Distress Tolerance: Four sets of crisis endurance strategies are taught: distracting, self-soothing, improving the moment, and consideration of pros and cons.
    • Emotion Regulation: Includes strategies for recognizing and labeling emotions, identifying barriers to changing emotions, and increasing positive emotional events.

    Uses of DBT

    Although DBT was originally intended for suffers of Borderline Personality Disorder, it has evolved into an effective treatment therapy for individuals dealing with emotional instability and problematic ways of coping with distress. Because of the emphasis on regulating emotions and use of healthier coping mechanisms, DBT is progressively being integrated into eating disorder treatment. Particularly, DBT techniques equip eating disorder sufferers with methods for identifying triggers and improving responses to stress, (such as engaging in breathing and relaxation exercises), and applying mindful eating. DBT techniques can be applied in treating various mental health disorders. Through DBT, patients have the ability to learn how to increase self-awareness, adjust black-or-white thinking, better deal with conflict and stress, and control negative thoughts and emotions. DBT has also demonstrated to be an effective psychotherapy for mental health issues such as depression, traumatic stress, and post traumatic stress disorder, mood disorders, and self-injurious behaviors. Recent research studies have also shown the effectiveness of DBT with sexual abuse survivors and chemical dependency.

    DBT skills include:

    • Developing and applying methods for coping with negative emotions
    • Being aware of bodily responses associated with negative emotions
    • Learning to fully embrace and experience thoughts and emotions

    Articles on DBT

    • What is the best therapeutic approach in treating eating disorders? There are several schools of thought, but this is a comparison of DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). Both approaches to therapy are proven and show positive results. CBT tries to control and change one’s thoughts even though a situation may not change, while DBT tries to integrate an acceptance strategy of thoughts and behaviors without an immediate need to change them. Both therapeutic approaches are valuable, but which one works the best for eating disorders?

    Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 21, 2013

    Page last updated: June 21, 2013
    Published on, Eating Disorder Help

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