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DBT: What is it and how can it help?

Updated: Nov 9, 2019

Developed in the 1980's by Marsha M. Linehan Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, is a widely accepted and evidence-based therapy that has been shown effective in the treatment of anxiety, depression, addiction issues, and personality disorders.


DBT is a cognitive-behavioral approach in which clients learn mindfulness skills to increase understanding of the relationship between thoughts, emotions, and actions. Clients then develop coping strategies which improve their ability to manage distress, regulate emotions, and increase interpersonal effectiveness.


The 4 Modules of DBT:


Mindfulness forms the foundation of the DBT model. By learning to observe their thoughts, emotions, and sensations, clients begin to identify the the body's signs of distress, and their own personal habits. This identification allows one to act more quickly and effectively to self-soothe and to counteract unhealthy or unwanted patterns. Mindfulness practice has also been demonstrated to regulate the nervous system, decrease anxiety, and increase cognitive function and subjective happiness.


Distress Tolerance skills invite clients to explore and develop their own personal tool kit of skills for coping with distress. Ranging from elaborate practices such as guided imagery and body scans, to basic concepts such walking, reading, watching television, this module encourages clients to identify strategies that are individualized and effective at reducing feelings such as anger, fear, and helplessness.


Interpersonal Effectiveness is a module that teaches methods for understanding one's own tendencies when relating to others, and to being in conflict. It explains how calm, precise, and non-violent communication can actually help one to improve feelings of connectedness to others, and to resolve disagreements favorably. Active listening, respect for self and other, and honesty form the foundation of this module.


Emotional Regulation means firstly learning how to recognize emotions and normalize them. Clients then focus on self-care practices to soothe negative emotions, and employing skills from the all modules to work with their mind and emotions from moment to moment.


In DBT clients work one-on-one, or in a group with their therapist to practice each of these skills, and to learn how they can be personalized to increase quality of life and unwanted patterns of thought and behavior. By doing so, client can learn to balance thoughts and emotions and experience what DBT calls "Wise Mind", a state of calm in which one can experience oneself fully and act from a state a patience and purpose.



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