What is DBT Therapy?

Last updated on May 30th, 2024 at 07:53 pm

If you are struggling with difficult emotions and self-management, you may feel like your life is out of control. However, there are plenty of options to help you regain your quality of life. DBT therapy can be an effective choice for many patients with a wide variety of mental health concerns or conditions.

DBT can help people who wish to improve their ability to deal with stress, manage negative emotions, stay focused on the present moment, and interact more effectively with other people. Research shows that DBT can be used to successfully treat borderline personality disorder, depression, PTSD, substance abuse, and various eating disorders, among other conditions.

What is DBT Therapy?

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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a mental health treatment approach that focuses on teaching people to cope with stress in healthy ways, manage difficult emotions, improve their relationships, and live in the moment.

DBT provides therapeutic skills in four key areas:

  • Distress tolerance. DBT clients learn to tolerate negative emotions rather than try to escape from them. Distress tolerance allows people to respond to situations more effectively and avoid being overwhelmed with stress, especially in situations where stress cannot be avoided.
  • Emotion regulation. Clients learn and implement strategies to manage and change intense emotions that cause problems in their lives.
  • Interpersonal effectiveness. Clients learn techniques for maintaining self-respect and communicating assertively with other people. Common themes include how to express needs more effectively, how to communicate constructively throughout conversations with difficult people, and how and when to say “no.” The skills taught through DBT often result in stronger, healthier relationships.
  • Mindfulness. An important component of all the skills taught in DBT is mindfulness, which is the ability to accept reality and be present in the current moment rather than excessively brooding on the past or future.

A large component of dialectical behavior therapy is finding a balanced perspective on reality and emotions. With a less black-and-white style of thinking, patients can more easily accept challenges that arise in their lives and respond in healthy ways.

Who Can Benefit From DBT?

DBT can help many people who struggle with emotional regulation and impulse control. That includes people with mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance use disorders, and more. DBT can also help people who have experienced trauma, as it provides skills to manage intense emotions.

DBT also helps people communicate effectively and set boundaries in relationships. If you tend to have conflicts with other people or a history of codependency, DBT could be a great treatment choice.

Overall, DBT can help just about anyone who struggles with emotional regulation, impulse control, or relationships of any kind. It gives you practical skills to manage intense emotions and communicate well, which can lead to happier relationships.

The History of DBT

Dialectical behavior therapy was developed in the late 1980s when researchers realized standard cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) alone wasn’t working as well as expected in patients with borderline personality disorder. Dr. Marsha Linehan and her team developed new techniques and treatments to meet the unique needs of these patients. Since then, their techniques have evolved based on evidence and been adapted for other conditions involving emotional regulation or self-destructive behavior.

DBT is based on the philosophical concept of dialectics, which states that everything is composed of interconnected opposites that can be integrated to create positive change and form a closer approximation of the truth. In DBT, the therapist and client work to integrate the seeming contradiction between self-acceptance and change to improve the client’s wellbeing.

Dialectical behavior therapy also has a strong validation component. The therapist validates that the client’s emotions “make sense” based on their personal experiences. At the same time, the therapist also recognizes that the client’s actions may not be the best approach and encourages change. The combination of validation and encouraging change make DBT more successful than other treatments for many clients.

DBT Therapy Techniques

DBT treatment strategies often include group therapy, individual therapy, and/or phone coaching components. Mental health professionals can recommend a course of treatment or combination of treatments depending on the client’s needs.

Individual therapy sessions give clients one-on-one contact with a trained therapist. The therapist will help the patient apply the skills they are learning through DBT, address challenges, and maintain motivation.

Group therapy clients learn and practice DBT skills together during weekly sessions that last around two hours. After each session, group members are typically given homework assignments such as mindfulness exercises. Group members are encouraged to share their experiences and provide support to each other.

Phone coaching allows clients to call their therapist for guidance in between sessions. With phone coaching, clients can call for assistance in the moments when they need it most, such as right before or during an emotionally difficult situation.

While these three therapeutic settings each have their own structure, they all share the same goals and many of the same characteristics. Clients learn strategies to accept themselves and their emotions. At the same time, they also work to make positive changes in their behaviors and interactions with others.

No matter where you get treatment, you will learn the DBT techniques that best fit your situation.

  • Mindfulness techniques involve learning to observe thoughts, emotions, and sensations without judgment. Techniques can include exercises such as mindfulness meditation, where you focus on your breath and observe your thoughts without getting caught up in them.
  • Distress tolerance techniques are designed to help people cope with crises and unwanted situations. These can include healthy distraction techniques, such as listening to music or watching a movie. They can also include self-soothing techniques, such as taking a warm bath or doing relaxation exercises.
  • Emotion regulation techniques focus on helping people identify and manage their emotions in healthy ways. They can include exercises like identifying and labeling emotions, developing a self-care plan, and practicing problem-solving skills.
  • Interpersonal effectiveness techniques focus on improving communication and relationship skills. These can include practice conversations and exercises based on setting boundaries.

In addition to these main categories, DBT also includes techniques like chain analysis and validation. Chain analysis involves looking at the events that led up to a crisis or emotional outburst, while validation is about accepting your feelings without judgment.

DBT techniques help people develop practical skills to manage intense emotions and improve their relationships. With these techniques, patients can improve many parts of their mental health and well-being.

Common DBT Skills For Emotion Regulation

Emotion regulation is your ability to cope with intense emotions in healthy ways. It’s one of the most common challenges we hear about from patients.

DBT teaches people a range of skills for regulating their emotions, like these:

  • Opposite Action: Challenging yourself to take the opposite action to the emotion you experience. For example, if you feel anxious and want to avoid a situation, the opposite action would be to face the situation head-on.
  • Self-Soothing: Doing something that brings comfort and relaxation, like taking a warm bath, reading a book, or listening to music.
  • Building Positive Experiences: Doing something that brings positive emotions, like spending time with loved ones or pursuing a hobby.
  • Problem-Solving: Dealing with the root cause of the emotion. By solving the underlying issues, you can make the emotion less intense.
  • Radical Acceptance: Accepting the reality of a situation, even if it is painful.
  • Building Mastery: Setting and achieving goals, which can help you build self-esteem.

These DBT skills can help with many mental health concerns, like anxiety, depression, and borderline personality disorder. They can help you cope with your emotions and build a better quality of life.

DBT therapy in any setting involves learning to analyze problems and behavior patterns, replace unhealthy patterns with healthier and more effective ones, change unhelpful thoughts or beliefs, learn new skill sets, and recognize and develop personal strengths.

What Should I Look For in a DBT Therapist?

To teach DBT effectively, therapists must practice DBT skills themselves. They must understand dialectical behavior therapy techniques and be able to model the approach themselves. Ideally, your DBT therapist will have specialized training and experience in DBT.

It’s also important to work with a therapist you feel comfortable with, whether you are pursuing DBT or another type of treatment. Mental health treatments are generally more effective when you are working with someone you trust.

Where Can I Get DBT Therapy?

Many therapists throughout the U.S. offer DBT therapy. Even if you cannot attend therapy in person, there are plenty of online options that allow you to receive therapy at home.

Before you choose a treatment plan, talk to a qualified mental health professional. DBT is effective for many people, but there may be other treatment options that could be more effective depending on your situation. Getting a diagnosis can help you find the best treatment plan.

If you live in Western Washington, Sunrise can help you or your loved ones find DBT and other mental healthcare services that improve your quality of life. We are a stable, trustworthy community that prioritizes individual needs and confidentiality. Contact us today to get in touch with qualified professionals who can help you find solutions that last.

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