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What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

young woman in therapy session with female psychiatrist or psychologist - Dialectical Behavior Therapy

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a unique type of therapeutic intervention that can be used to treat destructive behaviors and suicidality. DBT sees destructive behaviors as learned responses that can be unlearned and replaced with a more adaptive skill. This requires the therapist to work with the client, without judgment or blame.

According to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, DBT is especially effective in difficult-to-treat clients. For instance those who struggle with emotional intensity disorder (also sometimes known as borderline personality disorder), depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, eating disorders, and urges to self-harm.

What Does DBT Do?

DBT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy, but it is different from CBT. Specifically, it is used with the most difficult clients to treat urgent, time-sensitive barriers to recovery by focusing on the following:

  • Distress tolerance – experiencing intense emotions without a strong, impulsive reaction
  • Emotional regulation – being able to recognize, name, and appropriately respond to different emotions
  • Mindfulness being more aware of oneself and other people, one’s own triggers, and the present moment
  • Interpersonal effectiveness – using assertiveness to navigate conflict

Dialectical Behavior Therapy uses these focus points to address a client’s needs in the order of greatest to least urgency:

  1. Suicidality and self-harm
  2. Quality of life issues
  3. Improving relationships and self-image
  4. Strengthening joy and connectedness

A study that involved teaching DBT skills to children found that doing so, for as little as six weeks, improved their coping skills and decreased maladaptive behaviors. Moreover, parents will be taught DBT skills to allow them to reinforce what is learned in therapy. And also to improve their ability to effectively parent a child with a tough-to-treat mental health diagnosis. In fact, the study indicated that training parents alongside their children was the best way to ensure effective treatment and treatment adherence in DBT.

What Does DBT Look Like?

The word dialectical is used to mean opposites. In the case of DBT, opposites are brought together. Clients are able to change by accepting themselves as they are. They are also able to get what they need by changing, without giving up what they currently achieve by not changing. The individual is taught to validate their own suffering while also moving on from it. Parents are also expected to accept their child, while desiring them to make changes.

DBT is offered in multiple settings and can be provided:

  • One-on-one, with just the client and the therapist
  • As a group therapy intervention
  • As phone coaching between sessions

These techniques are used in tandem with clients having individual therapy sessions. Attending a group therapy session. And being able to reach the provider via phone between sessions.

What Results Does Dialectical Behavior Therapy Offer?

The American Psychiatric Association has endorsed DBT, citing the following benefits:

  • Less frequent and less intense suicidality
  • Shorter hospital stays
  • Decreased anger
  • Better treatment adherence
  • Improved social outcomes

Online DBT Tools

There are a number of free online tools related to DBT. These self-help tools are available to whoever seeks them out. We recommend that individuals also see a professional who is trained and skilled in the practice of DBT for best results.

The Santa Clara Chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) has shared an online tool that can allow people to understand some of the tools that are used in DBT or provide a reminder to someone already undergoing the therapy.

Dialecticalbehaviortherapy.com offers an assortment of tools to help clients work on each of the focus areas:

  • Distress Tolerance
    • Cost benefits analysis
    • Recognizing emotional crisis
    • Distracting activities
    • Grounding exercises
    • Radical acceptance
    • Self soothing
  • Emotional Regulation
    • Recognizing emotions
    • Emotions and physical vulnerability
    • Emotions and cognitive vulnerability
    • Self validation
    • Balancing emotional urges
    • Problem solving skills
  • Mindfulness
    • Mental body scan
    • Describing emotions
    • Mental noting
    • Mindful breathing
    • Using the wise mind instead of the emotional mind
    • Letting go of judgment
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness
    • Communication styles
    • Assertiveness skills
    • Barriers
    • Trust
    • Boundaries
    • Handling intensity

There are also DBT apps for both iPhones and Androids.

We Are Here to Help

If you have questions about Dialectical Behavior Therapy or any diagnoses listed in this post, Highland Hospital has a team of professionals who are available. To answer your questions and get you or your loved one on track for mental health recovery.

Are you or someone you loved in search of PTSD treatment in West Virginia? For more information about Highland Hospital and the services we offer, please call and speak with someone today at (304) 322-3037. Highland can help.

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