What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT, is an off-shoot of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), with some additional assumptions and techniques to complement cognitive-behavioral interventions. The first difference, obvious from the name of the treatment, is that DBT is based on a dialectic, which means that it attempts to integrate two opposing tensions. In this case, those opposites are the need to accept oneself despite one’s faults and the effort to change oneself and one’s faults.

DBT was first developed by Marsha M. Linehan in the late 1970s when working with patients with Borderline Personality Disorder, but it has since been shown to be effective for many other conditions and complaints, including substance dependence, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and eating disorders.

The technique consists of four particular aspects: mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation. Mindfulness means learning to be aware of oneself and one’s feelings in the present; distress tolerance is learning to tolerate distressing or uncomfortable emotions and situations; interpersonal effectiveness is learning to behave in and experience relationships in a productive and affirming way; and emotional regulation means learning to regulate one’s emotions to avoid the extremes of negative emotional experiences.

Through building each of these skills, the therapist helps the client to accept and validate him or herself while at the same time setting goals for behavioral and emotional change.

For more information on DBT, see the Linehan Institute.