Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is a form of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) that many research trials have shown helps people who experience significant mental health challenges to build a life they find worthwhile.
In DBT, you identify what this kind of life looks like for you and learn the skills to make it happen. While DBT can help regardless of whether or not you have a mental health diagnosis, it’s often used to support people who experience:
- borderline personality disorder
- eating disorders (binge eating and bulimia nervosa)
- substance use disorders or other addictions
- suicidal ideation and self-harm
If you’re feeling like mental health symptoms are negatively impacting your quality of life, health, or relationships, DBT may be a good choice for you.
What does “dialectical” mean?
The term “dialectical” means a synthesis (or integration) of opposites. Two opposites can be true at the same time. The primary dialectic within DBT is between the seemingly opposite strategies of acceptance and change. For example, in DBT we work on accepting what we need to, whilst concurrently enhancing our capacity to make changes when and where required, in order to reach our goals. Also, flexibility of thought is a skill that is taught, to help us see other perspectives in difficult situations and therefore help moderate mood.
What skills are taught in DBT?
DBT includes four sets of behavioural skills.
- Mindfulness: the practice of being fully aware and present in this one moment
- Distress Tolerance: how to tolerate pain in difficult situations, not change it
- Emotion Regulation: how to change emotions that you want to change.
- Interpersonal Effectiveness: how to ask for what you want and say no while maintaining self-respect and relationships with others
What are the components of DBT?
In its standard form, there are four components of DBT:
- DBT skills training group is focused on enhancing a person’s capabilities by teaching psychological skills. The group is run like a class where the leader teaches the skills and assigns homework between session practice to use skills in everyday life. Groups meet weekly.
- DBT individual therapy is focused on an individual’s personal goals and challenges and works to enhance motivation and help people to apply the skills learnt to specific target areas of their lives. In the standard DBT model, individual therapy takes place once a week and runs concurrently with skills groups.
- DBT phone coaching is focused on providing clients with support to use skills to effectively cope with difficult situations that arise in everyday life. Clients can contact the DBT Skills Group leaders between sessions to ask for coaching at the times when they need help the most.
- DBT therapist consultation team is intended to be ‘therapy for the therapist’ and to support DBT therapists in their work. The consultation team is designed to help therapists stay motivated and competent so they can provide the best treatment possible. Teams typically meet weekly and are composed of individual therapists and group leaders who share responsibility for each client’s care.