Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a relatively new form of talk therapy that has helped countless people overcome mental health challenges. Since its creation, it has quickly become a popular new treatment method, reaching substance use treatment centers, private practice therapists, and mental health treatment facilities. But what exactly is dialectical behavior therapy, and what makes it so special?
Dialectical behavior therapy is a form of therapy focused on helping people manage a variety of different mental health symptoms. While DBT was based upon the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), it has many unique characteristics that make it a full-fledged therapeutic style in its own right.
Dialectical refers to a discourse between two people: the very heart of DBT therapy. It specifically refers to the relation of logical discussion of ideas and opinions, which refers to the discourse that takes place between a client and their therapist.
Dialectical behavior therapy techniques were developed by psychologist Marsha Linehan in the 1990s. Dr. Linehan was looking for an effective method of treating people with borderline personality disorder, which at the time had no effective treatment options. 1
The techniques she developed proved to be very successful, and DBT became the first evidence-based treatment for helping people with borderline personality disorder reduce their symptoms and live happier and healthier lives.
Though DBT was based on the foundation of CBT, it has several distinctions that make it a unique and effective therapy. The most fundamental difference is in the way dialectical behavior therapy skills help people to process emotional and cognitive challenges.
In CBT, a therapist will encourage their client to challenge maladaptive thoughts, which can lead to changes in mood and behavior. Certain thoughts, such as “I’m no good at anything,” can become self-fulfilling prophecies. CBT aims to help people challenge and change these thoughts, which can have a positive impact on behavior.
Challenging these thoughts isn’t enough for some people to make lasting changes. Dialectical behavior therapy skills will often teach people to accept certain thoughts, behaviors, or moods, then learn how to manage their response to them. Rather than saying that every aspect of a person’s life is changeable, it acknowledges that sometimes the best thing someone can do is sit with uncomfortable thoughts or feelings without overreacting.
Understanding the principles of DBT requires a close investigation of the five functions of DBT therapy and several behavioral components. The five functions of DBT are as follows: 2
If a therapist takes care to follow these five essential functions, they are well on their way to creating a comprehensive DBT practice.
A client participating in DBT therapy will attempt to learn and master several dialectical behavior therapy techniques. These skills can help people to control their behavior, manage their emotional state, and accept themselves as they are.
Mindfulness is one of the core DBT skills that differentiate DBT from other therapy styles. While you might think of mindfulness as a type of meditation, it just means practicing being acutely aware of yourself, your surroundings, and your environment. For some people, formal meditation is a part of mindfulness, but others may never meditate and still practice being mindful in their everyday lives.
DBT recognizes that sometimes stress is unavoidable. Instead of trying to remove stress altogether, DBT skills teach people to better manage their stress. Learning distress tolerance helps people continue living their lives despite the stress.
This approach combines elements of CBT with mindfulness techniques. It is often used to treat conditions like borderline personality disorder and eating disorders.
Lastly, DBT skills for interpersonal effectiveness are designed to help people attend to their relationships, interact with others in a healthy manner, and balance their priorities in life.
Though DBT started as a treatment for borderline personality disorder, it has since proven to be incredibly effective for treating all manner of psychiatric disorders. Just a few of these other disorders or issues include:
Additionally, DBT for teenagers has proven to be particularly effective at helping them to overcome the symptoms of mental illness. 5
People with substance use disorders know all too well that recovery is not as simple as just saying no. You can’t necessarily control drug cravings, and recovering from a substance use disorder can cause emotional swings that are potentially beyond your ability to handle on your own.
As such, DBT can be particularly beneficial for people in early recovery, as it helps them to accept these thoughts, emotions, and feelings for what they are while still teaching ways on how not to act upon them.
In addition, DBT can be applied to several mental health disorders that frequently co-occur with substance use disorders. Left untreated, mental health challenges such as depression or anxiety can often lead to relapse.
By starting a DBT treatment program, you can treat both substance use and mental health challenges simultaneously and stay on the path to holistic health and recovery.
Finally, DBT techniques place great emphasis on using the skills learned in treatment in real-world situations. This can help people who are transitioning from residential treatment to outpatient treatment, or from outpatient to no treatment at all. For people recovering from addiction, this is where the work put in during treatment translates to a long and fulfilling life in recovery.
If you or your loved one is ready to pursue healing, we are here to support you. At Genesis Recovery, we will curate a personalized treatment plan oriented around your specific needs, expectations, and unique circumstances. Our therapists will equip you with the necessary tools and techniques to establish and maintain long-term mental health and recovery.
Call Genesis Recovery today to see if DBT is right for you.