Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): Not Only for Borderline Personality Disorder
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Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a modified cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) approach that involves change techniques based on behavioral therapy and acceptance. While CBT seeks to recognize and change negative thought processes into positive behavioral changes, DBT focuses on accepting each moment, changing negative behaviors, and learning to cope with difficult emotions.

Dialectical behavioral therapy and CBT may overlap because they both use talk therapy to help clients understand and manage their thoughts and emotions. Still, DBT focuses more on controlling emotions and interpersonal relationships as the initially developed method for borderline personality disorder (BPD), where moods and behaviors can dramatically change.

Conditions DBT Can Treat

Standard DBT treatment plans last at least 24 weeks, where the client participates in group and individual counseling sessions. Even though DBT was developed solely for BPD, DBT also helps treat multiple levels of mental health disorders that contain similar symptoms to BPD, including:

  • Suicidal thoughts, ideations, or behaviors
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance use disorder (SUD)

Skills Developed With DBT

Through DBT, clients learn coping skills to help with emotional stress positively. Mindfulness and distress tolerance will help individuals gain acceptance of their thoughts and behaviors, while emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness help people change their thoughts and behaviors. Below is an in-depth look at each skill:


DBT teaches individuals mindfulness skills to help the client experience what is happening in the present moment and concentrate on one thing at a time. Becoming mindful of the moment allows the client to identify and accept their thoughts or feelings without judgment.

Within the framework of DBT, clients practice how to be mindful by assessing reasonable thoughts with emotions and using acceptance to discover how to endure parts of themselves without wanting to harm themselves.

Distress Tolerance

DBT instills distress tolerance skills to help the individual decrease impulsive behaviors without using destructive coping methods. People may use unhealthy coping strategies in times of crisis to help them temporarily manage their emotions, such as avoidance, self-isolation, self-harm, or substance use.

Distress tolerance skills can help clients relax by using their senses to feel more serene, finding ways to improve painful or difficult situations, distracting themselves for calming down before assessing their thoughts and emotions or making a list of good and bad coping techniques.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

Extreme emotions and wild mood swings can make it challenging for individuals to communicate with others. Therefore, understanding how they feel and what they need is essential for establishing meaningful and lasting connections.

In DBT, interpersonal effectiveness skills teach clients to ask for what they want, say no to inappropriate requests, and cope with interpersonal disagreements. These skills collectively combine listening skills, social skills, and assertiveness instruction to help individuals learn how to transform challenging situations and remain true to their values and beliefs.

Emotion Regulation

DBT helps clients acquire emotion regulation skills and learn to handle instant emotional reactions before leading to a series of distressing secondary responses. Emotional regulation skills teach individuals how to solve problems practically, recognize emotions, reduce vulnerability, expose their feelings, and overcome obstacles to emotions that have positive impacts.

Benefits of DBT

DBT provides people with coping skills and strategies to accept and manage negative feelings; it also leaves the client with techniques to use in various aspects of their lives beyond the disorder. The new skill sets developed will enhance the person’s capabilities and encourage them to recognize their positive attributes. Other benefits of DBT include:

  • Behavioral skills: The individual will discover how to assess problems and damaging behavior patterns and substitute them with healthy and efficient ones.
  • Cognitive skills: The person will be able to concentrate on changing thoughts and beliefs that are not helpful.
  • Improving relationships: The individual will learn to communicate effectively and work with the counselor to create healthy relationships to improve overall health.
  • Healthy self-image: The individual will accept themselves and become less judgmental of their appearance and others.
  • Enhances quality of life: The person will improve their quality of life through each skill they practice. Each skill accommodates the other to produce a healthy and happy client.

The ultimate goal of DBT is to help clients appreciate and accept living in the moment and build improved coping methods. When successful, clients will be able to control emotional reactions and manage destructive behaviors positively. It is important to remember that DBT will require a solid therapeutic partnership between the client and counselor for the treatment to prove effective.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) focuses on accepting each moment, changing negative behaviors, and learning to cope with difficult emotions. If you or a loved one could benefit from DBT, we want to help. Crownview Co-Occurring Institute in Oceanside, CA, offers psychiatric treatment for several levels of mental health disorders. Our individualized approach ensures that each client receives high-quality care with effective results. CCI understands how challenging it can be to manage life and mental illness alone. We will support you from crisis to independence by providing a healing environment with a compassionate team of professionals ready to help you achieve control in your life again. At CCI, we offer tailored treatment plans to meet every physical and emotional need for recovery. Let CCI heal your mind, body, and spirit through evidence-based treatment services for a successful long-term recovery. Call (760) 477-4754 today to learn about our effective treatment programs.