Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a form of therapy that acknowledges our life experiences are real and valid, and they need to be accepted as such.

What is DBT?

2 minutes

DBT: A Framework for Lasting Change

The foundation of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is based on the understanding that individuals need to make positive changes in how they think about experiences, react to events, and interact with others. By doing so, they can build and maintain healthy relationships with themselves and others in our dynamic world.

Particularly effective for individuals dealing with intense emotional distress that impacts their well-being and interactions, DBT emphasizes the emotional and social aspects of a person’s life. It focuses on skills training that includes four key components: mindfulness, emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance. These are essential to successfully implementing the benefits of DBT in one’s life.

Let’s explore these components in more detail:


Mindfulness in DBT helps individuals stay present and accept the current moment. This is particularly beneficial for those with anxiety, who often worry about the future, and those with depression, who may dwell on the past. Practicing mindfulness involves techniques like meditation, body scans, and focusing on the breath. These practices help individuals release stress and accept the present, reducing the need for control and diminishing distressing emotions.

Emotion Regulation

Emotion regulation skills teach individuals to manage and change intense emotions that cause problems in their lives. This involves understanding emotions, reducing vulnerability to emotional upheaval, and decreasing emotional suffering. By acknowledging and processing emotions rather than avoiding them, individuals can better manage their emotional responses and reduce secondary emotional reactions like guilt or shame.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

Interpersonal effectiveness skills help individuals communicate their needs and set boundaries while maintaining self-respect and healthy relationships. This involves assertive communication and understanding one’s own limits. By clearly expressing needs and saying no when necessary, individuals can prevent burnout and maintain positive relationships without feeling overwhelmed or guilty.

Distress Tolerance

Distress tolerance skills equip individuals to handle crises and accept situations as they are, rather than how they think they should be. This reduces the magnification of distress through avoidance. By accepting negative emotions as a normal part of life, individuals can prevent these feelings from escalating and learn to tolerate discomfort, ultimately reducing future distress.

When is DBT Used?

Originally developed for Borderline Personality Disorder, DBT has proven effective for a range of conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, substance abuse, and eating disorders like bulimia and binge-eating. Typically, DBT is conducted through one-on-one therapy sessions, ensuring that all four skill areas are addressed. The therapist plays an active role in maintaining the client’s motivation and proper application of skills. DBT also includes skills groups, providing a supportive environment where participants can practice their skills and share experiences.

When integrated effectively, these four skills enable individuals to lead a healthy, realistic, and meaningful life. Each skill supports the others, providing a comprehensive approach to managing emotions and interactions in the real world.

Understanding Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) vs. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

CBT and DBT are both prominent forms of therapy that focus on altering negative thought patterns and behaviors, but they differ in several key aspects. One significant difference is how each approach handles validation and relationships. DBT emphasizes the importance of accepting our experiences as real and valid while simultaneously promoting the need for positive change. This balance between acceptance and change is crucial in DBT, which was originally developed to help individuals manage extreme emotions and reduce harmful behaviors. Although CBT also uses cognitive-behavioral techniques, DBT places greater emphasis on emotional and social components.

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