How Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Works


Many people confuse dialectical behavioral therapy with another popular form of therapy known as cognitive-behavioral therapy. In this article, we'll explain the difference between cognitive-behavioral therapy (cbt) and dialectical behavioral therapy (dbt). We also provide examples of how dialectical behavioral therapy works and tips on where you can find online providers who offer dialectical behavioral therapy.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) vs. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

While cognitive-behavioral therapy (cbt) is a form of behavioral therapy that focuses on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, dialectical behavioral therapy is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that places a greater emphasis on social and emotional functioning. Dialectical behavioral therapy promotes a holistic view of situations and teaches clients how to view their circumstances in more than one dimension.

This multifaceted therapy approach was designed in the 80s by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. Dr Linehan created the dialectical behavioral therapy approach in an attempt to find a workable therapeutic solution for people suffering from bipolar disorder. The doctor discovered that not only did dbt therapy provide a therapeutic solution for bipolar disorder, but that this form of therapy was also very beneficial for other mild to moderate forms of mental illness.

Since the advent of dbt, licensed therapists have used this therapy approach to treat chronic mental health disorders like anxiety, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder. Now that we've discussed the differences between cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy, let's delve deeper into how dbt therapy works.

How Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Works

Dialectical behavioral therapy is broken down into four primary components. Therapy sessions are designed around these components that are organized into a hierarchy of goals for therapists and clients to achieve together.

A very unique facet of dialectical behavioral therapy is that therapists who use this approach are also encouraged by educators and peers to apply the principles of dbt to their own lives. The result is a higher level of empathy between the therapist and the client as the therapist can authentically relate to the challenges, struggles, and triumphs associated with incorporating dialectical behavior therapy principles into your everyday life.

The four primary components of dialectical behavioral therapy are as follows:

  1. Mindfulness - The practice of mindfulness teaches us to be still and remain calm in the moment. When our thoughts wander backward to the past, or forward to the future, this creates anxiety for our minds and bodies in the present. The reason for this is that our minds are in a constant spiral of worrying about what could have been or what could be instead of focusing on what is. The absence of mindfulness in our lives can cause an increase in anxiety as we miss out on important moments and real-time engagements with our loved ones.
  2. Emotional Regulation - Dialectical behavioral therapy teaches emotional regulation by exposing clients to emotional scenarios and providing healthier emotional responses that lead to better outcomes. People who are able to regulate their emotions more effectively have a better chance of bouncing back from the inevitable challenges in life.
  3. Distress Tolerance - Along with emotional regulation, being able to remain calm under pressure is an important personality trait. In dialectical behavioral therapy, your therapist works to teach you how to remain calm regardless of the circumstances happening around you. When your mind is calm, you are able to make better decisions than when you're behaving in an emotional or irrational way. It's important to master distress tolerance in verbal, physical, and life-threatening situations.
  4. Interpersonal Effectiveness - Another important component of dialectical behavioral therapy focuses on interpersonal effectiveness in social situations. DBT recognizes that we need to be able to communicate effectively in order to maintain harmony and balance within our households and society at large. Interpersonal effectiveness skills are honed in dialectical behavioral therapy to make your engagements with friends, family, employers, and even strangers, productive and mutually beneficial.

What To Expect From Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

When you get dbt therapy, expect to be immersed in a fully interactive therapy experience. The two main components of dialectical behavioral therapy are individual therapy sessions and skills groups. Let's look at each of those components in greater detail below.

  1. Individual Therapy Sessions - People who sign up for dialectical behavioral therapy can expect to have regular one-on-one conversations with their licensed therapist. During the psychotherapy components of dbt, mental health clients are introduced to new communication skills and behavioral strategies for achieving more positive outcomes in their lives.
  2. Skills Groups - A unique component of dialectical behavioral therapy is the addition of regular skills groups to psychotherapy sessions. People who get dbt will also take part in group therapy sessions that include interactive activities and role play sessions. The purpose of dialectical behavioral therapy skills groups are to put the new skills and behaviors learned in individual psychotherapy sessions into practice.

If you're interested in learning more about dialectical behavioral therapy or finding a licensed therapist who specializes in this interactive form of therapy, you can find licensed therapists by visiting your state's licensing board, joining an online therapy subscription service, or completing a Google search for a dialectical behavioral therapist near me.