Dialectical Behavior Therapy

If you're looking to build useful skills like mindfulness and emotional control, dialectical behavior therapy may be a good option for you. Through this unique form of behavior therapy, you can learn how to live in the present, handle stress, control your emotions, and have healthy relationships with others.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a type of psychotherapy that was originally developed by Dr. Marsha M. Linehan in the late 1980s. It was initially designed to treat individuals with borderline personality disorder, but it has since been adapted for use with a variety of mental health conditions.

DBT is based on a dialectical approach, which means finding a balance between seemingly contradictory elements. The therapy combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with concepts from Eastern mindfulness practices. South Coast Behavioral Health uses DBT as part of our comprehensive addiction and mental health treatment programs. 

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

Dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT for short, is a discipline or approach within clinical psychology developed to treat personality disorders and other mental health issues. It was developed by mental health professional Marsha M. Linehan as a way to improve upon CBT.

Linehan saw CBT as a great tool to identify and change negative thought patterns but noticed it lacked the appropriate methods to approach situations involving heightened emotions. She wanted to develop a form of mental health treatment that could help people when they were experiencing emotional pain. That’s where DBT therapy began.

The word “dialectical” in DBT refers to “dialectic,” meaning two opposing things coming together to form something new. An example might be an optical illusion in which one viewer sees a cup and the other sees two people looking at each other; rather than being two opposing things, both are true.

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What to Expect in Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

When an individual enters DBT treatment, they may be struggling to cope with emotional distress. Their pain tolerance could be extremely low. When people have difficulty tolerating emotional pain, they may engage in self-destructive behaviors.

For example, some people who are living with Borderline Personality Disorder, and have a low tolerance for emotional pain, engage in self-harm or harmful behaviors to cope with this distress. If that is the case, the most urgent goal is to get the client to a place where they’re safe. If a client is experiencing suicidal ideation, self-harming, or if they’re using other dangerous behaviors, a DBT therapist will first help them get to a place where they are no longer at risk of harming themselves.

In a typical DBT program, emotional pain tolerance and emotional distress are often the first aspects worked on. Things like mindfulness, self-compassion, self-respect, self-awareness, and interpersonal relationships come a little bit later on. A DBT therapist will help an individual in learning how to cope with negative emotions and acknowledge how they’re feeling without necessarily trying to change it.

How Does Dialectical Behavior Therapy Work?

DBT is especially beneficial for those who struggle to regulate their emotions and communicate with others. As a modified form of cognitive behavioral therapy, DBT takes inspiration from talk therapy techniques while integrating mindfulness and skill-based learning. Like with CBT, you’ll work with a DBT therapist to identify goals you’d like to work on and overcome obstacles that prevent you from achieving these goals. You learn skills to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors.

Here’s a brief overview of how DBT therapy works:

Individual DBT Therapy

Individual dialectical behavior therapy is a crucial element in comprehensive DBT treatment, though it can also be effective as a standalone treatment. In individual sessions, clients work one-on-one with a trained therapist to apply DBT skills to their specific life challenges.

The process is goal-oriented, beginning with addressing life-threatening behaviors and eventually moving to improve the quality of life. Therapists use a hierarchy of treatment targets to prioritize the issues that need urgent attention. In addition, the therapist is often part of a consultation team to ensure adherence to the DBT model and to receive support.

The length of treatment varies but is usually committed and could last a year or more, depending on the individual’s needs and the severity of the symptoms. Overall, individual DBT offers a personalized, intensive approach to treating emotional dysregulation, behavior issues, and relationship challenges.

DBT Phone Coaching

Phone coaching allows clients to contact their therapists between scheduled sessions for brief coaching on how to handle challenging or crisis situations using DBT skills.

The primary aim is to provide real-time guidance that helps clients apply the techniques they’ve learned in therapy to their everyday lives. This on-the-spot support aims to generalize the skills learned during individual and group therapy sessions to real-world scenarios, thus making the skills more ingrained and effective.

DBT Group Therapy

You may learn DBT skills in individual therapy, but DBT is commonly received in group settings. As opposed to individual therapy sessions, people in DBT groups talk about their challenges together.

In DBT group skills training patients learn to manage their feelings while interacting with other group members and sharing their experiences. Many people find it helpful to attend group therapy in addition to seeing a therapist one-on-one.

Group skills training sessions are usually led by a certified and trained DBT therapist. Individuals participating in the group will learn the standard components of DBT such as mindfulness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and effective interpersonal communication skills together.

DBT Skills Training

DBT skills training sessions have a set structure, often beginning with the review of a “diary card” that tracks behaviors, emotions, and skill usage. The sessions proceed with an established agenda that includes behavior analysis and cognitive restructuring, designed to help clients understand and modify problematic behaviors and thoughts. Homework assignments and, in some cases, phone coaching between sessions help clients to practice and generalize these skills.

DBT skills training focuses on the following areas:

These DBT skills are sometimes referred to collectively as “comprehensive DBT.” Learning these emotional skills helps us gain assertiveness, stand up for ourselves, respect others, draw boundaries, and maintain stable relationships.

Does Insurance Cover DBT?

If you are wondering if your insurance policy covers dialectical behavioral therapy, check your coverage with our free, secure, online verification form today!

What Does DBT Help Treat?

Initially, Linehan developed DBT to treat individuals living with borderline personality disorder (BPD). However, today it treats a wide range of conditions, including:

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy is useful for anyone who struggles to regulate their negative emotions or compulsions at the moment and would benefit from learning how to be more present. DBT treatment happens in conjunction with antidepressant medications for mental health issues like depression or bipolar disorder. It also happens during individual therapy or group sessions.

How Long Is DBT Treatment?

The duration of DBT can vary depending on individual needs, but it often involves a commitment of several months to a year or more.

In general, dialectical behavior therapy follows a four-stage treatment protocol which includes:

While DBT can be intensive, many people find it to be effective for bringing about significant and long-lasting change.

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Recover with Dialectical Behavior Therapy

If you are struggling with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, dialectical behavior therapy in Southern California may be an effective treatment option for you. It is important to note that DBT requires active participation for it to be successful. If you think DBT might be right for you, please reach out to us today by calling 866-881-1184 or filling out our secure contact form.

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