Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Authored by Pin Ng PhD

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

Dialectical behavior therapy, also known by the acronym DBT, is a therapeutic approach that helps individuals deal with various issues from mental health disorders to addiction.1https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectical_behavior_therapy DBT is a type of psychotherapy that is used to treat people who suffer from very intense emotions. The psychotherapy is often used for individuals experiencing borderline personality disorders (BPD).

How does dialectical behavior therapy work?

DBT is a version of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but has been adapted to treat patients in specific ways. Psychologist Marsha M. Linehan developed DBT in the late 1980s by combining behavioral science techniques with elements of Zen Buddhism.

She adapted mindfulness and meditation practices of Zen Buddhism to help patients look inward. It is a unique approach that has helped thousands of people overcome their addiction to drugs and alcohol and mental health disorders.2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2963469/ DBT is a talk therapy that treats individuals by allowing them to gain treatment through communication. It was designed mostly for people who self-harm and suffer from BPD.

Who can benefit from dialectical behavior therapy?

DBT is considered an evidence-based treatment. It has been used effectively for the last 30 years to treat a variety of disorders. DBT can be used to effectively treat individuals prone to intense emotional situations as well as mental health disorders. It can also be used to treat patients with:



DBT can help individuals who experience extreme mood shifts. It can also be prescribed for persons that are believed to be difficult to treat and at high-risk.

What are the parts of dialectical behavior therapy?

DBT has two key components used in the treatment of clients. The key components are:


  • Individual psychotherapy – This sets out to solve the problems of a person’s behavior issues.
  • Group psychotherapy – Clients learn skills to cope with their mental health disorder and behavior strategies. These coping skills and behavior strategies come from the following four areas:


  1. Mindfulness – Individual’s improve their ability to accept and be present in the moment.
  2. Interpersonal effectiveness – Helps individuals gain and keep self-respect. It also enables them build personal relationships.
  3. Distress tolerance – Increases a person’s ability to tolerate negative emotions instead of attempting to escape from their emotions.
  4. Emotion regulation – Individuals learn strategies to maintain and alter intense emotions that cause problems.3https://psychcentral.com/lib/an-overview-of-dialectical-behavior-therapy/


Does dialectical behavior therapy work?

Studies have shown that DBT works with multiple disorders and more than just BPD. Individuals suffering from a variety of disorders can gain the help they need through DBT sessions. Although each case is different, DBT has been proven to treat mental health disorders in patients.4https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-018-1627-9

Linehan developed DBT to replace the shortcomings of CBT.5https://worldsbest.rehab/cbt-for-addiction/ It was realized that CBT wasn’t working for every client, especially those needing help with mental health disorders and intense emotions. Clients can focus on regulating their emotions and accepting them through DBT treatment. It has helped thousands and continues to be a highly prescribed treatment for individuals.

References: dialectical behavior therapy

  1. Chambless DL, Hollon SD. Defining empirically supported therapies. J Consult Clin Psychol. 1998;66:7–18. [PubMed] []
  2. Linehan MM, Comtois KA, Murray AM, et al. Suicidal and behavioral outcomes from a one-year randomized trial and one-year follow up of dialectical behavior therapy for borderline personality disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006;63:757–66. [PubMed] []
  3. McMain S. Presentation. New Orleans, LA: Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy; 2004. Dialectical behaviour therapy for individuals with borderline personality disorder and substance abuse: A randomized controlled pilot study. []
  4. Chapman AL, Gratz KL, Brown M. Solving the puzzle of deliberate self-injury: The experiential avoidance model. Behav Res Ther. 2006;44:371–94. [PubMed] []
  5. Chapman AL, Linehan MM. Borderline Personality Disorder. New York, NY: Taylor &Francis; 2005. Dialectical behavior therapy for borderline personality disorder. In: Zanarini M (ed) pp. 211–42. []
  6. Gross JJ. The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Rev Gen Psychol. 1998;2:271–99. []
  7. Bopp MJ, Weeks GR. Dialectical metatheory in family therapy. Fam Process. 1984;23:49–61. [PubMed] []
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