When is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Used?

Since its inception in the late 1970s, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) has been utilized as a form of cognitive behavioral therapy to treat high-risk patients with multiple mental illness diagnoses who are often exhibiting suicidal behavior. DBT is rooted in dialectics, which is based on the philosophical concept that everything is composed of contradictions and change will happen whenever one opposing force is stronger. As one of the gold standards for cognitive behavioral treatments, DBT is used by therapists and psychiatrists to teach patients how to effectively cope with emotional instability and improve their relationships with others. Patients are encouraged to accept their emotions and urges, as well as change negative behaviors. Below we’ve created a broad overview on how DBT is used within a mental health treatment plan to boost emotional well-being.

How DBT Works

While building on the foundation of cognitive behavioral therapy, DBT adds a unique aspect by focusing on the psycho-social aspects of behavior because people typically react differently to certain emotional situations when in a group. For this reason, DBT usually combines an individual weekly psychotherapy session with weekly group therapy. In DBT, patients will learn new coping skills in four different modules, which include distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, emotional regulation, and mindfulness. After treating the most self-destructive behaviors in the first stage, patients in DBT will progress through three more stages to build quality-of-life skills, improve their relationships, develop self-esteem, and promote more joy.

Conditions Treated with DBT

DBT was initially founded by Marsha Linehan to treat patients with borderline personality disorder, which is a pervasive mental illness that tends to cause self-injury, risky behaviors, self-image problems, relationship instability, and suicide attempts. That being said, DBT can be adapted for use with individuals suffering any other mental health problems that threaten their personal safety, interpersonal relations, work life, and emotional well-being, too. Research has shown that DBT is effective for minimizing the symptoms of mood disorders like depression or bipolar disorder, binge eating disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even ADHD. Some therapists use DBT for treating substance abuse addictions, but it isn’t always effective when given as the sole treatment method.

Benefits of Receiving DBT

Dialectical behavioral therapy has strong research support in helping people who are suffering from a wide array of mental illnesses that cause impulsivity, emotional distress, self-destruction, and serial problematic relationships. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), patients who undergo DBT treatment plans often will see considerable improvements in regulating their emotions in a healthy manner. Most DBT patients become less angry, reduce their suicidal behaviors, have shorter hospitalizations, and improve their social functioning. Since DBT blends individual therapy with a supportive group environment, patients usually are less likely to drop out of their treatment. Keeping diary cards in DBT also helps patients develop healthy coping mechanisms by validating their thought patterns or behaviors.

Overall, DBT is used in both inpatient and outpatient psychiatric care for tough-to-treat patients who are experiencing acute emotional distress and perhaps posing a danger to themselves. Patients in DBT learn how to overcome their mental illness by fostering positive coping skills that battle painful emotions and self-defeating thoughts. Many mental health professionals now depend on dialectical behavioral therapy to naturally begin treating life-threatening conditions, enhancing self-respect, and changing harmful behaviors.