What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Are you struggling with intense emotions, negative self-talk, or difficulty in relationships?

You’re not alone. In fact, about 1.6% of the US population struggles with Borderline Personality Disorder, a condition that often responds well to Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). This means that about 330 million people in the US experience intense negative emotions.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) was initially developed to help individuals regulate their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. However, it is now considered an effective type of therapy for a variety of mental health conditions.

But what exactly is DBT, and how can it help you live a healthier, happier life?

In this blog post, we’ll dive into the ins and outs of this evidence-based therapy and how it can benefit individuals seeking therapy. And remember, it is not just for people with a certain diagnosis (such as Borderline Personality Disorder).

What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a form of psychotherapy that was developed in the late 1980s by psychologist Dr. Marsha M. Linehan. It is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that integrates mindfulness and acceptance-based strategies with traditional behavioral approaches such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines DBT as “a flexible, stage-based therapy that emphasizes helping individuals learn both to regulate and to tolerate their emotions.”

DBT is based on the idea that some individuals have difficulty regulating their emotions and behaviors, and that this can lead to significant distress and disruptions in their daily lives. Dr. Linehan developed this type of therapy specifically for chronically suicidal women who were struggling with borderline personality disorder (BPD) (Robins et al., 2018).

The key principle of DBT is that individuals are inherently capable of change. However, this change can be difficult to achieve without the right support and guidance. As a result, therapists who employ DBT try to balance acceptance and change by guiding their clients to develop adaptive emotion regulation strategies.

DBT treatment typically involves weekly individual therapy sessions or multiple weekday groups of skills training and group sessions. The individual therapy sessions focus on helping the individual identify and regulate their emotions, while the skills training groups focus on specific coping skills to help individuals better manage their emotions and behavior.

How Does DBT Work?

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is based on four core modules that are designed to address different aspects of an individual’s emotional and behavioral difficulties:

  1. Mindfulness: This module focuses on teaching individuals how to be present in the moment and to focus their attention on the here and now. Mindfulness skills help individuals to become more aware of their thoughts and emotions, and to regulate them more adaptively. For this purpose, therapists teach the clients to focus on their thoughts, feelings, and sensations to sense what is happening around them
  2. Interpersonal Effectiveness: The purpose of this module is to help individuals improve their communication skills and become more assertive. It focuses on maintaining healthy boundaries and building better relationships. Interpersonal effectiveness skills help individuals to assert their needs and wants while also considering the needs of others (for example, expressing your needs and being able to say “no”). It is very helpful for those that struggle with communication patterns of being too passive, too aggressive, or both.
  3. Emotion Regulation: Learning how to manage emotions in a healthy way is another core aspect of DBT. Emotion regulation skills help individuals to recognize and label their emotions, understand the causes of their emotions, and find ways to manage their emotions that are effective and sustainable. The purpose of this module is to help clients improve emotional awareness and reduce distress. Learning these skills can have a major effect on people that are struggling with feeling “triggered” often.
  4. Distress Tolerance: This module teaches individuals how to cope with and tolerate distressing emotions and events without resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Distress tolerance skills help individuals to stay in the present moment and find healthy and effective ways to manage their distress. This can include skills such as mindfulness, self-soothing, distraction, and radical acceptance. In fact, this skill can help people to become empowered in their lives as well.

The structure of DBT is based on the concept of dialectics, which involves bringing seemingly opposing ideas together to form a more comprehensive understanding and solution.

Benefits & Effectiveness of DBT

Numerous studies have proven the effectiveness of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy for a range of emotional and behavioral challenges, including borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. According to a 2021 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, DBT was an effective treatment for adults with borderline personality disorder as it reduced their symptoms (Heerebrand et al., 2021).

Furthermore, results of a 2018 study showed that DBT intervention reduced self-harm attempts in suicidal individuals (McCauley et al., 2018). Therefore, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is an effective treatment for suicide prevention as well.

Studies also prove that DBT can be an effective therapy option for individuals who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the findings of a randomized controlled trial published in JAMA Psychiatry, DBT can treat emotion dysregulation due to severe childhood abuse-associated PTSD (Bohus et al., 2020).

Based on these findings, DBT is accompanied by long-term outcomes and benefits for individuals who experience intense negative emotions. Some of the key benefits of DBT include:

  • Reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety;
  • Improved ability to manage stress and regulate emotions;
  • Improved communication and relationship skills;
  • Decreased likelihood of hospitalization for individuals with borderline personality disorder;
  • Reduced frequency of self-harm behaviors;
  • Enhanced ability to identify and change negative thought patterns;
  • Better overall well-being and satisfaction with life;
  • Resilience in the face of challenges.

Who Can Benefit from DBT?

Dialectical behavior therapy can be especially beneficial for individuals who are motivated to make positive changes in their lives and willing to fully engage in therapy. The reason is that it requires a high level of commitment and motivation from the individual in order to be effective.

Besides, people who feel comfortable being in groups can find this type of therapy even more effective, as it usually involves participation in group therapy sessions in addition to individual therapy.

Here are some of the most common mental health conditions treated with DBT:

Final Thoughts

To recap, DBT is a highly effective form of therapy that has been proven to help individuals better manage intense negative emotions and improve their overall quality of life.

At Health for Life Counseling, we have seen firsthand the positive changes that DBT can bring to individuals who are struggling with their emotional condition. If you are looking for a way to deal with intense emotions and improve your well-being, contact our licensed counselors and find out if DBT is the right treatment option for you.

Our offices in Grand Rapids, MI, and Ada, MI provide a supportive and confidential environment for those in need. So, reach out to our professional therapists or schedule an online consultation to start your journey to a healthier and happier life.

Learn more about the Trauma-Informed Counseling Center of Grand Rapids

Learn more about Counseling and Therapy services at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids

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