Addiction Recovery

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?


Dialectical behavior therapy shares many traits with cognitive behavioral therapy and has its own approaches. Call us today to learn more!

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Addiction Recovery

January 13, 2022

Dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, is a common therapeutic approach used to help individuals cope with the stresses of daily life. Whether it’s sustaining sobriety or dealing with the sources of anxieties or depression that populate one’s mind, DBT is a personalized approach that can be adapted to each unique situation.

While DBT was originally conceived as a method to address borderline personality disorder, its universal use has made the approach an option for combatting many mental health challenges. 

Dialectal Behavior Therapy Explained

DBT is a subset of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It is modified to provide a unique approach to help individuals find stability, comfort, and acceptance in any given moment. While both are powerful forms of talk therapy that utilize therapy sessions with trusted professionals, there are a few ways in which DBT is differentiated. 

For those undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy, much emphasis is put on better understanding how one’s thoughts and feelings influence behaviors. By understanding and controlling one’s thoughts, an individual can better understand their behaviors or why they may feel compelled to act a certain way. Changing the way an individual perceives a situation can then impact how they respond, reshaping one’s perspective while challenging their impulses, such as risky behaviors like gambling

All of this can be found in DBT as well. However, where CBT aims to help an individual reshape the way they experience certain events, DBT helps individuals center themselves in the present and learn to accept and validate their feelings. DBT uses techniques for an individual to identify when they are feeling sad, angry, or overwhelmed.

Embracing these things rather than turning to self-destructive measures — such as using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate or engage in self-harm — is the goal of this modality of therapy. DBT helps explore one’s identity and become comfortable in it, thereby helping to regulate one’s emotional responses. 

DBT is also unique for its heavy focus on interpersonal relationships. It not only addresses how an individual may feel and overcome a situation but also how they can better improve their social skills. Being able to articulate one’s needs through education and practical life skills can inform how an individual approaches their relationships, empowering each individual to pursue their best social outlets. 

The Processes of DBT

Dialectical behavior therapy can take a couple of different forms. Primarily, individual and group therapy sessions are utilized to encourage an ongoing dialogue with professionals and groups where one feels safe speaking about vulnerable topics, like one’s emotions and needs. DBT and CBT can also be done using telemedicine, making this particular approach to one’s health widely available. DBT utilizes these methods to focus on a few core techniques — particularly mindfulness and confronting stress and stress responses. 

The Importance of Mindfulness

Mindfulness, or the ability to be aware of one’s own body and corporeal sensations, is a crucial component of DBT. For some, this is a grounding strategy as one learns to breathe and focus on the feeling of their feet on the floor, the touch of a pencil, or the rubbing of one’s jacket brushing on their forearm. Being mindful of these experiences and how they affect one’s body can help reconstruct a grounded sense of reality — something that is incredibly important when faced with the often illogical feelings presented by depression, anxiety, panic, and many other mental health concerns. 

Practicing these techniques can be used not only reactively to stress but can help an individual gain a better understanding of physiological warning signs. Attuning to one’s heartbeat or breathing patterns can help an individual better identify sources of stress before greater effects manifest, helping them remain proactive about their continued success. 

Being mindful of one’s emotional responses to any given situation is the cornerstone of DBT and is essential for regulating one’s emotions, providing a better understanding of one’s body and mind, and promoting greater levels of acceptance and agency over one’s emotions. 

Building a Distress Response Strategy

Mindfulness is also essential when creating a response plan for distress. Being able to identify the onset of intense anxiety, panic, or depressive episodes can allow individuals to employ their strategies more efficiently. DBT employs a number of approaches to accomplish this, by working with one’s interests to find ways to distract oneself in the moment, providing the context to identify the positive, silver linings in otherwise distressing situations, or by reinforcing mindfulness practices to employ relaxing or peaceful sensory experiences. 

Interpersonal Skills and Expectations

DBT’s heavy focus on interpersonal relationships develops one’s social skills and helps one’s relationships reflect their needs and goals. Approaching important relationships with a degree of trust, acceptance, and self-worth can shape them into powerful tools for one’s continued success. DBT focuses on leaning into these aspects by using techniques such as talk therapy and role-play. It empowers each individual to analyze their relationships, practice one’s voice, and even learn to say “no” or better express one’s needs, wants, and thoughts in social settings. All of this not only creates a healthy sense of belonging but helps build healthy relationships as well. 

Dialectical behavior therapy is just one option available to you to begin tackling the stresses, anxieties, depression, and more that may affect you daily. At The Edge Treatment Center, we understand the difficulty that comes with recovery from both addiction and mental health disorders, and we are prepared to help you take the first step toward a healthier future. For more information on how we can help, call us today to speak to a caring staff member.

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