What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy Used For?

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT, was developed in the late 1980s by Dr. Marsha Linehan following extensive use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). DBT was developed specifically because it became clear that CBT was not fully effective for patients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). In order to improve treatment for BPD, Dr. Linehan and colleagues created and tested additional techniques in order to achieve greater success as they sought to improve the health and wellbeing of those living with BPD. 

However, DBT didn’t stop with BPD treatment. Over the last handful of decades DBT has been tested (and proven successful) on a wide variety of mental health conditions such as: 

  • Bipolar Disorder
  • ADHD
  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • Substance Abuse Disorder
  • Suicidal Behavior
  • Non-suicidal Self-harm 
  • OCD
  • PTSD

Is DBT Effective?

Research shows that DBT is extremely successful despite varying factors in age, gender identity, race, and sexual orientation. Here are just a few examples: 

  • Studies show that DBT appears to be effective in the treatment of PTSD, depression, and anxiety by shifting core beliefs and improving emotional regulation 
  • DBT has been proven to be consistently effective in treating Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) by more than 75%, and can reduce the risk of suicide in those living with BPD. 
  • Suicidal behavior is difficult to combat in therapy, as is non-suicidal self-harm. But, over the years, DBT has been shown to significantly improve the outcome of therapy for these types of thoughts and behaviors. 

How DBT Works

DBT is a highly beneficial treatment for many individuals, and traditionally follows the same path or protocol of treatment in 4 key stages to achieve success. 

The 4 main stages of DBT are: 

  • Stage 1: Therapists identify and target the most concerning or self-destructive behavior types for the patient (such as suicidal ideations, self-harm, or harm to others).
  • Stage 2: Here the therapist will address quality of life issues such as emotional regulation, distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness. 
  • Stage 3: Now the therapist will focus on building healthy relationships and addressing self-esteem problems. 
  • Stage 4: Final treatment sessions target broader end goals such as helping patients discover greater happiness and fulfillment in their lives, and the establishment and pursuit of goals and dreams.

DBT Stages of Treatment

There are four main stages of treatment for Dialectical Behavior Therapy: 

  • Stage 1: At the early stages of treatment, therapists will identify and target the most concerning or self-destructive behavior types for the patient (such as suicidal ideations, self-harm, or harm to others).
  • Stage 2: The second stage of DBT begins to address quality of life issues such as emotional regulation, distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness. 
  • Stage 3: In this stage of DBT the therapist will focus on building healthy relationships and addressing self-esteem problems. 
  • Stage 4: In the final stage of DBT, treatment targets broader end goals such as helping patients discover greater happiness and fulfillment in their lives, and the establishment and pursuit of goals and dreams.

Benefits of DBT

The main goal of DBT treatment is for the patient to work directly with their therapist to bring peace to their mind and improve emotional regulation through self-acceptance, mindfulness, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Working through these techniques and their application brings validation to the patient’s journey as well as an ability to “marry” their personal experiences and emotions with rational thought and the activation of their “wise mind.” 

When you choose to pursue DBT as a form of treatment, you’ll discover strategies that help you accept, tolerate, and even embrace your life’s emotions, challenges, and circumstances. You’ll create greater self-awareness and self-love, and improve specific skills that bring positive awareness to your behaviors and relationships. 

DBT starts by changing core thoughts and beliefs - the negative ones that contribute to ineffective, unhelpful behaviors and impulses. From there you’ll learn to look at problems and examine these patterns in new ways as you begin to replace them with healthier, more effective self-analysis and decision making.

By the end of your DBT skills training you should understand how to communicate effectively with others, identify your emotions, and enhance your strengths. 

Getting Started with DBT

One of the easiest and best ways to begin the DBT treatment process is to join an online therapy group, which offers easy, affordable weekly access from the comfort of your own home to all of the benefits DBT has to offer. 

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