What's Dialectical Behavior Therapy? Developing Your Understanding

Updated October 2, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

Are You Interested In Learning More About When DBT Is Used?

Dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, is a type of psychotherapy that teaches group skills to help people or a person learn and utilize skills that they need to create a life that they appreciate. 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, especially those that cause self destructive behaviors. Essentially, therapy gives a person new skills that they can use to help with managing intense negative emotions that are painful, and decrease relationship conflicts, which has huge benefits.

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

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

It's a way to help with managing painful emotions and conditions, 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, post traumatic stress disorder, binge-eating, generalized anxiety disorder, bulimia, PTSD, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, or even any form of substance abuse. DBT skills are thought to help everyone improve and regulate their emotions, allowing for more tolerance of distress and negative emotion, allowing someone to be mindful and present within the moment, improving communication, and an ability to interact with others better. Dialectical Behavior Therapy DBT has the ability to change the relationship with feelings, experiences, and thoughts, that one may experience in one way or another.

Why Does DBT Teach Skills

Rather than just addressing problems, dialectical behavioral therapy teaches skills 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 addressing problems can provide temporary relief or something that can help short-term, it's not helpful long-term. To provide effective treatment, DBT assumes that clients are trying as best as possible and that they need to learn behaviors in different contexts. DBT helps with capabilities of an individual by teaching these different skills. These will allow a person to navigate and handle situations within everyday life, or manage challenges that get too big for this. These skills, according to Linehan, are a huge part of building a life that's worth living.

A DBT therapist can help with different case management as well since it will teach a client to be their case manager. The individual 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. Since it was originally used for those with BPD, let's go over how it works with those that have BPD.

People that have 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 that become a problem when they're interacting with other people, including friends, romantic partners, and even their own family. This can lead to a ton of conflict in relationships, which doesn't benefit anyone really, including the individual with BPD.

Individual therapy in a DBT program is influenced by philosophy of dialectics, which is essentially balancing behavioral opposites. A 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 change, allowing you as a person to grow from these changes. In clinical psychology, DBT training offers distress tolerance skills, coping skills, and thought reframing for those attending individual therapy.

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 correct behavioral therapy and help, along with accepting changes that transpire, and working towards being the best person that they can be will make a difference.

What To Expect From This

This type of therapy consists of both groups and one-on-one sessions. The therapist can occasionally be seen as a coach to the patient. Usually, individualistic therapy sessions are one-on-one contact, and all of the therapeutic needs are addressed. The goal of individual therapy sessions 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. 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 a need to lash out and a inability to accept change. This is usually a focus since understanding and accepting change is a huge part of behavioral tech treatment.

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

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

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 a group aspect of DBT, and we will go over that in the next section.

This group aspect is mostly learning how to practice these skills. The one-on-one aspect is getting to the why, but group allows you to practice your 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 aspect of this is usually about two hours, and meet weekly for six months, more or less depending on the needs that people have. DBT is done in different ways, depending on clients and therapist. Some people don't need skills groups, but others might like to have 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!

Are You Interested In Learning More About When DBT Is Used?

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 treatment. If you're curious about learning how to regulate your own emotions, or if you have 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. To learn more about DBT and what it can do for you, read some treatment outcome literature.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the six main points of DBT?

The six main points of dialectical behavior therapy are acceptance and change, behavioral, cognitive, skill sets, collaboration, and support.

What does DBT do?

Dialectical behavior therapy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy developed by Marsha Linehan that teaches individuals with mental health issues skill sets to live in the moment, form coping mechanisms, regulate their emotions, and improve relationships. It was first developed as a way to treat individuals with bipolar disorder, but now is used to relieve symptoms of other mental health problems including binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, substance use disorder, self injury, suicide attempts, and more. Suicidal behavior and thoughts of self harm should always be taken seriously. If you are in a crisis or any other person may be in danger - don't use this site. These resources can provide you with immediate help.

What are DBT techniques?

Techniques of dialectical behavior therapy include treatment strategies surrounding practicing mindfulness, tolerating distress, regulating emotions, and managing interpersonal relationships with loved ones and colleagues. 

What are the 4 components of DBT?

The four components of DBT include group skills training, individual treatment (including learning life skills, positive thought patterns, mindfulness skills, emotion regulation skills, and more), DBT phone coaching, and consultation team. 

Can you learn DBT on your own?

DBT is a skill that you can learn on your own, without the help of dbt therapists and practices like diary cards. While DBT skills training is most effective with the help of a therapist, these skills modules are meant to be practiced consistently by the individual on their own time as well. 

Is DBT good for depression?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the most effective form of therapy for those with depression is CBT. SInce DBT is a form of CBT, it can be an effective form of therapy for individuals with depression, although extensive meta-analysis has not been done to is still being conducted to support this idea. 

Can DBT be harmful?

DBT is very effective for individuals with a number of mental health issues, but is not recommended for patients with mood and anxiety disorders. These individuals should consult a mental health professional for the best course of treatment. 

What are examples of DBT skills?

Skills learned through DBT include the ability to describe, express, assert, reinforce, be mindful, appear, and negotiate. 

What is a dialectical thinking?

Dialectical thinking involves analytical reasoning, pursuing knowledge and truth of one’s thoughts and emotions as long as there are questions and conflicts in one’s life.

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