How is DBT Different from CBT?

Psychotherapy offers exclusive benefits as a treatment method which differs from traditional talk therapy. If you’re at all familiar with psychotherapy, you’ve probably heard the terms “DBT” and “CBT.” DBT stands for Dialectal Behavior Therapy, and CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. If you’re trying to decide which one is right for you, it’s important to understand the differences between the two. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 

CBT is closer in concept to traditional talk therapy. This type of therapy focuses on talking through your problems and completing exercises to help you frame your thoughts in new ways that are more constructive and conducive to healthier relationships and habits. 

The goal of CBT is to help you utilize reason and logic to change the way you frame your thoughts and behaviors, allowing you to control these things instead of having them control you. CBT is founded upon the idea that our feelings are rooted in thoughts and behaviors, and so consequently changing the way you think can have a positive impact on your emotions. 

Another important thing to recognize about CBT is that it is often utilized as a catch-call phrase for a few therapies that share common characteristics, such as DBT, Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). The therapists who utilize CBT in their practice for the most part will utilize talk therapy with a few consistent tactics: 

  1. Limited Time: Most CBT treatment only occurs over a limited period of time before patients can begin applying the strategies they learn on their own. 
  2. Relationship Building: Some of CBT will focus on the relationship and trust between therapist and patient. 
  3. Treating Responsiveness: CBT is based upon the idea that thoughts drive emotion, so changing the responsiveness of the individual undergoing treatment by altering their thinking can help them feel better. 
  4. Utilizing Reason & Logic: CBT promotes the use of cognitive rationale in order to respond to situations in a positive and constructive manner rather than letting your emotions do all the work.

CBT is incredibly effective as a treatment for depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias, panic disorder, sleep issues, and PTSD. CBT can be incredibly effective for certain people. However, it isn’t the suggested method of treatment for all mental illnesses. DBT, for instance, is the gold standard for treating Borderline Personality Disorder and is often extremely effective as a tool for treating other specific mental health conditions.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

While DBT is technically a type of CBT, it is particularly geared toward empowering individuals usually driven by emotion or impulse to choose actions, behaviors, thoughts and feelings that are less harmful to them or others. As a type of CBT, DBT is the most effective form of therapy for those with BPD, and those who struggle with self-harm behaviors like cutting and chronic suicidal ideation. 

The primary goal of DBT is to help individuals struggling with certain behaviors and mental health conditions to better cope with stress, regulate their emotions, stay present in every moment, and consequently improve the health of their relationships with others. 

DBT techniques include a walk-through of 4 specific modules, usually over the course of a year: 

  • Mindfulness: how to be aware of yourself and your emotions and stay present in the moment
  • Distress Tolerance: learning to cope with difficult or uncomfortable experiences and communication 
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness: being able to ask for what you want and need and learning to say no in healthy ways to establish boundaries and self-respect
  • Emotional Regulation: discovering how to manage highs and lows and adjust emotional experiences that don’t serve you

DBT is usually performed in the following settings:

  • Group Therapy: In this setting, members are taught DBT skills with a group of their peers and are able to practice DBT application in a safe, controlled environment led by a licensed mental health professional.
  • Individual Therapy: For one-on-one therapy, DBT can be leveraged by a trained mental health specialist to identify destructive behaviors in order to replace them with healthy behavioral skills. 

The Main Differences Between DBT and CBT

CBT focuses on altering a patient’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior with the understanding that all three are interconnected and influence each other. DBT on the other hand, focuses more on the regulation of emotion, mindfulness, and acceptance. 

CBT offers the ability to recognize when thoughts become troublesome before they begin to influence feelings, while DBT helps patients find ways to accept their identity, feel safe, and regulate intense emotions to avoid destructive behavior. 

CBT or DBT: Which One Is Right For Me? 

The best way to figure out which form of treatment is right for you is to speak with a qualified mental health professional about your options. Ready to get started? 


Join a DBT Group Support Session

We offer DBT group therapy online to New York, New Jersey and Florida residents and DBT skills groups to everyone over the age of 18.

Find my group

Space is limited, so reserve your seat today.

Find My Group