What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy And What Can We Learn From This?

Updated September 22, 2018

Sometimes, painful emotions and conflicts can take a lot out of a person. But dialectical behavior therapy can help with this, and it gives you help on different elements that can benefit your life. Here, we will look at the elements of DBT, and what you can get regarding the benefits from it.

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

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Dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, is a type of psychotherapy that teaches group skills to help people learn, and utilize the skills and strategies that they need to create a life that they will be able to experience and live with. It was developed by Marsha Lineman, who used it initially for those who had BPD, and it now can be used for a majority of the population for other disorders. Essentially, the therapy gives the person new skills that the person can use to help with managing emotions that are painful, and decrease relationship conflicts in a person.

Four key elements are focused on in DBT, and they are as follows:

  • Mindfulness, which focuses on improving the ability to accept and be present within the moment
  • Distress tolerance: this is geared towards increasing the tolerance for negative emotion, rather than trying to escape this
  • Emotional regulation: a means and strategy used to manage and change the emotions that are super intense and creating a problem in a person's life
  • Interpersonal effectiveness: techniques that allow someone to communicate with others in a way that's assertive, allows for self-respect to be maintained, and strengthen the relationship of a person

It's a way to help with managing painful emotions and conditions that can be there, and it's important to know that while it was originally used for BPD, it's actually expanding into other fronts.

When Is DBT Used?

It was originally used to treat borderline personality disorder. But, it can help treat those that experience depression, binge-eating, bulimia, PTSD, bipolar disorder, or even any form of substance abuse. DBT skills are thought to help those improve and regulate their emotions, allowing for more tolerance of distress and negative emotion, allowing the person to be mindful and present within the moment, improving communication, and the ability to interact with others better.

Why Does DBT Teach Skills

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The reason as to why this teaches skills to cope, rather than just addressing problems, is because behaviors that are a problematic start to evolve as a way to cope with either a situation or a means to solve a problem. While in a person this can provide temporary relief or something that can help n the short-term, it's not helpful in the long-term. DBT assumes that clients are trying as best as possible and that they need to learn behaviors in different contexts. DBT helps with the capabilities of an individual by teaching these different skills. These will allow the person to navigate and handle situations within everyday life, or manage the challenges that get too big for this. These skills, according to Linehan, are a huge part of building a life that's worth living.

It can help with different case management as well since it will teach the client to be their case manager. The therapist in many of these cases is more of a consultant and can interact and stop anything as necessary.

How Does It Work?

DBT is mainly categorized as cognitive therapy. Now, originally since it was used for those with BPD, let's go over how it works with those that have BPD.

Those that suffer from BPD have very extremely negative emotions, all of which are very hard for a person to change and manage. They can be intense, and uncontrollable emotions and these become a problem when they're interacting with other people, including friends, romantic partners, and even their own family. They experience a ton of conflict in their relationships, which doesn't benefit anyone really, including the individual that's suffering.

It's influenced by the philosophy of dialectics, which is essentially balancing out the behavioral opposites. The therapist will work with you to find the different ways these two different perspectives are influencing you. And while they may be opposites, with the proper balance of these two and avoiding each of these extremes regarding the way you think, it can help you out immensely. DBT gives you a both, rather than either or, and dialectics at heart of DBT is looking to help accept the change, allowing you as a person to grow from these changes.

Changes can influence a person in both positive and negative manners. While some people handle it well, those with BPD may have a surge of negative emotions that can be a bit of a problem.But with the right behavioral therapy and help, along with accepting the changes that transpire, and working towards being the best person that they can be will make a difference.

What To Expect From This

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This type of therapy does consist of both groups and one-on-one types of situations. The therapist can occasionally be seen as a sort of coach to the person that's here. Usually, the individualistic therapy sessions are one-on-one contact, and all of the therapeutic needs are addressed. The goal of the person who is helping the client is to keep the person motivated, and helps them apply these skills in their life, and address any obstacles that might arise during treatment.

For each of the skills, the therapist has their own goal for each of them. When it comes to mindfulness, it can be becoming more mindful of what the triggers are that cause this emotional distress, or any triggers and situations that can cause the need to lash out and the inability to accept change. This is usually a focal part since understanding and accepting change is a huge part of this.

With distress tolerance, it's helping the person try to tolerate these negative emotions. Lots of times, the patient will get away from it, or lash out, which then breeds more negativity. With DBT, you'll be able to help the person tolerate the current emotions, and handle the distress.

Emotional regulation on the therapist's part consists of strategies that can be used to help the person become more emotionally regulated. Managing these will help with the prevention of these blowups, allowing them to harness the control over their emotions.

The interpersonal effectiveness does work with helping the person become more assertive with their relationships, and allows them to get better at communicating various factors, allowing them to have a stronger, healthier relationship not just with themselves, but with other people.

The final one usually falls more onto the group aspect of DBT, and we will go over that in the next section.

The group aspect is mostly learning how to practice these skills. The one-on-one aspect is getting to the why, but the group allows you to practice these skills. Other people have their own experiences, and they may know of something that can be used to help you cope with situations better, and it does give you a better, more reliable support network. Usually, one trained therapist is leading all of this, and they practice different skills and exercises. The group members are given some homework, including mindfulness exercises, and other types of regulation.

The group aspect of this is usually about two hours, and they meet weekly for six months, more or less depending on the needs that people have. DBT is done in different ways, depending on the client and the therapist. Some people don't need the skills groups, but others might like to have the skills groups since they work better with others. Ultimately, it's up to you to figure out what you need for yourself and have the correct therapy delivered based on personal needs.

Get Help!

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For many people, this can help to treat a wide variety of conditions and other disorders. Being able to handle and regulate emotions is a focal part of this. If you're curious about learning how to regulate your own emotions, or if you suffer from any of the disorders listed and need some help with it, the best thing for you to do, is to seek out a therapist within the area that's ready to help you, and one that will do you much good.


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