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Therapy Spotlight: Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a skills-heavy, evidence-based type of therapy that is a perfect fit for those struggling with intense emotions, relationship difficulties, trauma symptoms, self-harm, or suicidal ideation.

A image of a woman struggling with overwhelming emotion

The last few years have been a whirlwind! With traumatic events taking place around the world, more and more people are being affected by depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other similar mental disorders. This has led to to huge demand for therapy and counseling.

But what KIND of therapy is effective therapy?

This question is an important consideration as you seek our therapy services for yourself or a loved one. There are some gigantic differences in theoretical modalities. While most of these approaches are evidence-based, personal preferences and stylicistic differences in clients meant that not every approach is a good fit for everyone.

Today we're going to talk about Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that has been designed to treat a variety of mental illnesses. In this blog post, we will define DBT, describe what it is used to treat, and briefly discuss the four modules: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.

What is DBT?

DBT is a type of therapy that is used to treat a variety of mental illnesses. Originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder, DBT has proven to be an effective tool in helping people who struggle with mood disorders, substance abuse disorders, eating disorders, PTSD, and other similar conditions. It is a cognitive-behavioral therapy that is characterized by its focus on both acceptance and change. The term "Dialectic" means the balancing of two seemingly opposing ideas. The goal of this therapy is to help individuals manage their emotions, decrease conflict in their relationships, and develop effective coping mechanisms.

DBT is unique in that it consists of four modules that are taught to patients through a combination of individual therapy, group therapy, and homework assignments. The first module, mindfulness, helps individuals learn how to be present in the moment and non-judgmental of their experiences. The second module, distress tolerance, teaches patients coping mechanisms to use during times of distress. The third module, emotion regulation, helps individuals learn skills to manage intense emotions. The fourth module, interpersonal effectiveness, helps patients learn effective communication and relationship skills.

How Do I Know If Dialectical Behavior Therapy Is A Good Fit For Me?

DBT might be a good fit for you if you:

  • Have intense or overwhelming emotions that often come out of nowhere

  • Have a persistant sense that "the other shoe is about to drop"

  • Struggle with short and/or intense relationships that begin and end abruptly

  • Have a difficult time asking for what you need or setting boundaries

  • Struggle with self-harm behaviors including (but not limited to) cutting, burning, scratching, substance abuse, unsafe sex, and gambling

  • Feel like you don't know who you are or feel as though your life was happening to someone else

Key Component #1: Mindfulness

Key Component #2: Distress Tolerance

Key Component #3: Emotion Regulation


Key Component #1: Mindfulness

The first step to change is awareness!

If we can't identify the problem and catch it before it becomes a crisis, it will be incredibly difficult to cope effectively with it.

The mindfulness module of DBT is designed to help patients connect with their thoughts and emotions in a non-judgmental way. This approach helps individuals learn how to cope with difficult emotions and tolerate stressful situations without becoming overwhelmed. Through mindfulness exercises such as deep breathing and body scanning, patients learn how to be present in the moment, which can help them avoid distractions and build stronger relationships with others.

Key Component #2: Distress Tolerance

Sometimes, how intensely we're feeling our emotions gets in the way of solving the problem that caused it.

In these situations, we need to safely ride the emotional wave until the intensity dissipates. But how do we do this without engaging in bad habits like self-harm, alcohol, or drugs?

The distress tolerance module helps individuals develop coping skills that they can use during times of crisis. DBT therapists teach patients how to use distress tolerance techniques, such as self-soothing, relaxation, and distraction, when they are feeling overwhelmed or in crisis. These techniques are designed to help individuals manage intense emotions without resorting to destructive behaviors like self-harm or substance abuse.

Key Component #3: Emotion Regulation

Once we've navigating ourselves out of crisis, we need to problem solve.

We need tools that help us make sense of reality, what we're feeling, and figure out how to make ourselves feel better.

The emotion regulation module helps patients identify and manage their intense emotions. DBT therapists use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to help patients learn how to identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs that may be contributing to their intense emotions. They also help patients develop coping skills that they can use to manage their emotions, such as problem-solving, emotion exposure, and relaxation techniques.

Key Component #4: Interpersonal Effectiveness

Relationships, relationships, relationships.

Interacting with people is hard! We don't always know how to communicate our needs, set boundaries, and meet new people.

The interpersonal effectiveness module teaches patients effective communication skills that can help them build and maintain healthy relationships with others. By learning how to set boundaries, express their needs and wants, and manage conflict, patients are better equipped to navigate their relationships with friends, family members, and romantic partners.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a powerful tool for anyone struggling with mental health disorders. DBT is characterized by its focus on both acceptance and change, and the therapy consists of four modules. These modules teach patients important skills like mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. DBT is different from traditional talk therapy in that it is more focused on practical tools and skills that patients can use to manage their emotions and navigate their relationships. If you are struggling with a mental health disorder, DBT may be the right therapy for you. With the help of a trained DBT therapist, you can learn to manage your emotions, build stronger relationships, and live a more fulfilling life.

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