What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

Life is hard. Job stressors and marital strife can make life almost unbearable. It seems that no matter how many times to pick yourself up, you get knocked down again. The never-ending cycle can lead to depression, and anxiety and substance abuse.

For some, asking for help is still considered taboo. It makes them feel as if there is something wrong with them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Asking for help is the first step of regaining control over your life.

Whether you’re looking for addiction therapy or treatment of depression and anxiety, there is help available.

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

Dialectical behavior therapy teaches clients new ways to manage negative emotions and reduce confrontation in their relationships. DBT focuses on four specific therapeutic skills: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.

Let’s dig a little deeper into each one of these subsets as well as learn more about the history and uses of dialectical behavior therapy.


In the late 1980s, DBT was developed with Dr. Marsha Linehan and her fellow colleagues discovered the cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) did not work as well as they had expected in patients with borderline personality disorder. Dr. Linehan developed a subsequent treatment plan that would meet that needs of her patients as a whole and individually.

Derived from the philosophical process of dialects, DBT is based on the concept that everything is made up of opposites and positive change happens when the opposing force is stronger than the other. Specifically, dialectical therapy has three very basic assumptions:

  • Change is constant and also inevitable
  • All things are intertwined
  • We can integrate opposites to create a closer approximation of truth


Originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder, researched showed that DBT was also successful in treating people with other types of conditions including depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders and substance abuse. Skills learned in DBT are thought to help people tolerate stress more effectively, be mindful in the present moment and learn how to communicate more effectively with others.

The New Form of Cognitive Therapy

Now, DBT has become a standard type of cognitive behavioral therapy. When someone is undergoing they should expect to participate in a variety of therapeutic settings:

  • In a classroom setting, patients learn behavioral skills by completing assignments and role-playing with others in a non-threatening, communicative manner. Patients are able to express their feelings in a setting that breeds warmth and support
  • Individual therapy involves digging deeper into personal challenges and learning how to deal with negative emotions in a healthy way. In addition, phone coaching gives patients the support when they need it the most.
  • Some therapists may also work with a consultation team to help them navigate complex issues.

When practiced, the four subsets of CBT can create a feeling of harmony. This doesn’t mean that any negative experiences or complex problems are magically corrected. It does, however, give patients the skills needed to see things in a different way.


Mindfulness teaches you to focus on being in the present. It allows you to leave painful emotions or negative experiences behind you. This doesn’t mean that you pretend they didn’t occur, however, being able to focus on the here and now channels your energy onto the moment.

Distress Tolerance

Learning to accept yourself and the current situation you are in isn’t easy. When you learn to the right way to implement distress tolerance, you’re able to self-soothe, distract yourself in a positive manner and improve the way you handle stressful or unpleasant situations.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

When you learn the skills under interpersonal in CBT, you learn how to be assertive in your relationships; i.e., being able to express yourself and say “no” when you really don’t want to do something. Far too many times we allow ourselves to be sucked into situations that make us uncomfortable. Being able to take a stance without feeling guilty for your feelings also helps you regulate your emotions more effectively.

Emotional Regulation

Being able to regulate your emotions isn’t suppressing how you feel. Keeping the peace when you are angry or keeping hurt feelings inside only leads to resentment and a build-up of negative emotions. Learning how to cope with negative emotions reduces your emotional vulnerability and increases positive emotional experiences.

What to Expect

In certain situations, for instance, substance abuse disorders, DBT focuses on changing the recovering addict’s behavior. It identifies the potential triggers of use and gives them better control of their emotions.

Common strategies can include:

  • Encourage addicts to remove triggers such as unhealthy relationships or social situations.
  • Helping patients find peer groups and alternative environments that discourage drug use.
  • Build confidence and self-esteem to help patients remain sober even during stress periods.


Although DBT is still considered young in the world of psychology, it’s become standard treatment for many conditions. As its efficacy continues to spread, many people who once felt lost and are able to regain control of their lives, particularly in addiction therapy. Substance abuse is treatable with the right methods of therapy, support, and dedication. If you feel that you or someone could benefit from DBT, contact us today.