How DBT Helps You Cope with Depression

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) was developed in the late 1980s by Dr. Marsha Linehan following extensive use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for those living with BPD. While this type of therapy was specifically created to help manage crisis behaviors in individuals with BPD - such as suicidal ideation, self harm, and substance abuse, this treatment type has since been proven to be effective for a variety of other conditions, including: 

  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance use disorder
  • Eating disorders such as binge eating disorder and bulimia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

It is generally hypothesized that DBT is effective in the treatment of these conditions due to the fact each condition is associated with unhealthy behavioral patterns and an inability to control impulsive, intense, negative thoughts and emotions. 

Since the core concern of DBT is to help those in treatment to improve their ability to cope with and regulate their emotions, successful DBT treatment can help individuals with these conditions to improve their quality of life and decrease their symptoms as they learn to apply new skills learned in DBT treatment. 

Causes of Depression 

The Mayo Clinic lists some core causes of depression as the following: 

  • Trauma: enduring abuse or witnessing traumatic events 
  • Stress buildup: due to illness or life events 
  • Substance abuse

Research also suggests that continuing challenges - such as long-term job loss, living in unhealthy relationships or environments, long-term isolation/loneliness, prolonged periods of stress in work or personal life - and other environmental factors are likely to cause depression. 

In each of these situations, it can be seen that life challenges, stress, substance abuse, environmental hurdles, relationships and more can contribute to the experience of depression in all types of individuals. And in fact, DBT treatment targets these types of experiences, behaviors, and patterns, which is why the treatment can be so effective at mitigating symptoms of depression (by focusing on its core causes).

How DBT Might Help Your Depression 

DBT can be effective in the treatment of depression particularly because it emphasizes validation and tolerance, both of which are usually limited in the lives of those struggling with depression. Many people living with depression often feel worthless, which can create an overwhelming feeling of sadness and an inability to remain present in their everyday lives. 

Throughout your DBT treatment, you’ll learn to develop new skills that can help you cope with depressive symptoms, specifically:

  • Interpersonal effectiveness: finding ways to ask for what you want and need and to establish healthy boundaries with others while maintaining self-respect
  • Emotional regulation: discovering the best ways to decrease your vulnerability to negative emotions and learning to change the ones that don’t serve you 
  • Distress tolerance: finding ways to tolerate painful emotions and difficult situations, rather than fighting them 
  • Developing mindfulness: learning to be fully self-aware and present in every moment. 

DBT treats many core causes of depression throughout skills training, such as identity and self-esteem problems. By teaching you to be more accepting of yourself and others, DBT can galvanize positive change in your life where you may have struggled to make changes in the past. 

One major tool used throughout DBT treatment may be particularly effective for depression mitigation: diary cards. These cards are used by every patient to track the invalidating thoughts and negative behaviors that impact them on a frequent basis, in addition to tracking the coping mechanisms and new skills that might be making a difference in their daily lives. 

For patients undergoing DBT treatment for depression, many may discover the following improvements as a result: 

  • Renewed interest in activities you previously enjoyed
  • Improved mood 
  • Better focus, concentration, and memory 
  • Decreased physical symptoms (like head and body aches)

In addition to mitigating these symptoms, DBT can help you manage emotional highs and lows and develop better skills to approach challenges. The main goal of DBT is to help you find a balance between acceptance and change, which can aid in the improvement of negative thought patterns that are more likely to intensify symptoms of your depression. 

Whether you’re used to bringing yourself down or you feel you exist in a toxic environment that regularly pushes you into a state of depression, DBT can bring you better skills and coping mechanisms to help you embrace all aspects of your life and to improve the ones you wish to change.


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