The Basics of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

The Basics of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

In the world of psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy is the prime choice of treatment for many disorders and has seen a reasonably high success rate. Within cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT exists a sub-category called dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, that is used for more specific mental disorders.

Much like cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy seeks to change negative thought patterns and behaviors through multiple sessions of talk therapy, throughout which the therapist will attempt to set in place thought patterns and behavior in their patients that bring about positive change.

We asked experts of DBT to give us more insights about this type of therapy and hopefully shed more like on dialectical behavioral therapy for people who need it:

What Makes Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Different from Other Forms of Psychotherapy?

Unlike other forms of therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy relies on the coming together of two different modes of thinking (change and acceptance) to bring about a more holistic healing process (hence the term “dialectical”).

Therapists who use dialectical behavioral therapy are encouraged to start their treatment from the patient’s experiences and use it as a springboard to start the healing process and change negative thought patterns.

In general, a standard dialectical behavioral therapy program consists of four parts:

  • Individual talk therapy
  • Training group skills
  • Phone-in Therapy in times of crises in between face-to-face sessions
  • Consultations after the program

Throughout the program, patients are encouraged to practice new skills and complete assignments that the therapist provides for them. These assignments can be as simple as filling out daily diary cards to track their emotions, urges, thoughts, and behaviors throughout the day, as well as other take-home therapy work the therapist deems appropriate.

What Is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Used For?

group therapy session


Dialectical behavioral therapy is used for more high-risk disorders like suicidal behaviors and borderline personality disorders. It is also used to treat complicated patients who have a history of failing other types of therapy and have multiple diagnoses.

Dialectical behavioral therapy is also used to treat different mental disorders that are perceived as a threat to the patient’s safety, their relationships, and of course, their overall emotional well-being.

How Does Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Work?

A standard DBT program focuses on creating life skills that bring about positive thought patterns in a patient. To do this, therapists teach patients some psychological skills that help them to get better, such as, but not limited to:

  • Distress Tolerance: This skill allows patients to feel intense emotions like depression and anger but removes impulsive reactions from the equation, allowing them to process their feelings more healthily without relying on substance abuse or self-injury.
  • Emotion Regulation: Helps patients recognize their emotions, label them in their heads, and adjust accordingly.
  • Mindfulness: Helps patients become aware of their emotions, how they respond to it, and how their response affects them and the people in their lives.
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness: This skill helps patients navigate interpersonal conflicts more healthily and teaches them to assert themselves and their emotional needs.