What Is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

What Is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

More than 21 million Americans struggle with at least one addiction, yet only 10% seek treatment. 

Although addiction is a serious disease affecting men and women of all ages and nationalities, treatment can look different from person to person. When someone makes the brave decision to tackle their addiction, they may utilize a team of specialists to help them through their journey.

A part of learning to overcome addiction is to learn how to deal with complex emotions. One effective way to do that is dialectical behavioral therapy or DBT. This article will tell you everything you need to know about DBT and how it helps those with addiction and mental health concerns.

Keep reading to learn more.

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

American psychologist Marsha Linehan first developed dialectical behavior therapy in the 1970s. DBT is referred to as either dialectical behavior or behavioral therapy. DBT is a type of psychotherapy or talk therapy.

Although it is similar to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), DBT was created to help people who experience very intense emotions. Borderline personality disorder and other mental health conditions are commonly treated with DBT.

With CBT, therapists help their patients talk through their thoughts so that they can understand how it affects their behavior and emotions. Dialectical behavioral therapy, on the other hand, focuses on helping patients become aware of and accept the reality of their behaviors. This awareness allows for insight into how their behaviors affect themselves and others. After awareness and acceptance are achieved, the therapist and patient focus on how they can break the cycle of bad habits and associated actions. 

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy Used For?

The DBT program was designed to help people with destructive behaviors and those with trouble managing their emotions. It is proven to improve several mental health conditions, including, but not limited to:

  • Self-harm
  •  Suicidal behavior and ideation
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Substance use disorders
  • Eating disorders like bulimia or binge eating disorder
  • Addiction
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

DBT therapy has been successful with these conditions because each of them is associated with problems controlling intense, negative emotions. DBT focuses on finding healthy coping mechanisms and techniques to aid that pain.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy Techniques

Since its inception in the 1970s, DBT has evolved several approaches to assist various conditions. DBT is successful in several settings. These include:

  • Group therapy – where patients are taught behavioral skills together with other patients
  • Individual therapy – where a patient works with a trained professional to gain adaptive skills, leading to positive life changes
  • Remote coaching – where patients receive guidance over the phone or video chat during difficult situations

There are several strategies used in DBT. Let’s look more in-depth at a few of them.

Core Mindfulness

One of the foundational concepts that DBT instills in its patients is the development of mindfulness skills. Mindfulness helps patients focus on the present and live in the moment. 

To do this, trained professionals will help patients become aware of everything happening within and around them. This can include their feelings, thoughts, sensations, and impulses, as well as utilizing their five senses in a non-judgmental state.

This awareness will help patients to slow down. Which, in turn, allows them to have the presence of mind to cope with emotional pain in a healthy, non-reactive way. Patients can learn to stay calm in stressful situations without automatically relapsing into impulsive behavior or negative thoughts.

An example of core mindfulness is becoming present with your breath. To practice this, pay special attention to how your body feels when you inhale or exhale. Observe your belly rise and fall with every breath. This moment of reflective meditation can help calm the parasympathetic nervous system, which can lower heart rate and blood pressure, easing distressful symptoms you may be experiencing.

All therapy techniques should be used with the guidance of your team of medical professionals and does not replace medication when needed.

Distress Tolerance

Learning skills that relate to distress tolerance helps patients accept their current situations. These skills will allow them to have the presence of mind to either find a solution to a problem or start to heal from a traumatic event. There are several techniques that patients learn to handle a crisis, including:

  • Self-soothing
  • Distraction
  • Assessing pros and cons

These techniques help people become prepared for intense emotions or thoughts that might arise. It helps them gain perspective and greet the future with a more positive outlook.

An example of distress tolerance is to make some simple change or distraction to a situation in the moment, like running up or down the stairs or going outside. This distraction helps the distressed individual divert away from any negative thoughts in their head.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

Interpersonal effectiveness allows patients to become more assertive with themselves and others in a healthy way. For example, they will learn to express their needs clearly and say “no” to things they don’t want to do or something that might be unhealthy for them. 

This practice helps patients communicate more effectively, listen to others’ needs and their own, and deal with challenging personalities they may encounter daily.

The acronym GIVE is a steady reminder of how to practice interpersonal effectiveness:

  • Gentle: do not be judgmental, aggressive, or threatening to other people
  • Interest: practice good listening skills and show interest in others.
  • Validate: Acknowledge how the other person feels and what they’re thinking 
  • Easy: Have a light-hearted and easy attitude

Patients can learn to better respect themselves and others by practicing GIVE and other interpersonal effectiveness practices.

Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation is a skill that allows people to traverse complicated and powerful feelings more effectively. Instead of dealing with intense, vague emotions, patients can name, identify, and change them.

Once patients can do this, they will not be as emotionally vulnerable, allowing them to become stronger and more mindful.

An example of emotional regulation is “opposite action.” Patients are asked to identify how they are feeling and do the opposite of it. If they feel lonely, they should plan to see friends and family. This action allows a patient to stop ruminating on a feeling and take action to improve their mood and relieve their symptoms.

Stages of DBT

Dialectical behavioral therapy for addictions to drugs and alcohol can be split into four stages.

In the first stage, the patient’s most destructive behaviors must be addressed. This can include suicidal ideations or self-harm.

In the second stage, the mental health professional will address different aspects of the patient’s quality of life. This includes their ability to tolerate stress, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation skills.

Next, they will move on to activities that help boost their self-esteem and work on their interpersonal relationships.

Finally, the treatment will focus on how to help patients get the most out of their lives. They will find specific avenues to reach their goals, strengthen their relationships, and achieve more happiness.

Benefits of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

The primary focus of DBT is for the therapist to help the patient resolve internal contradictions that are stunting the patient from accepting themselves fully. When they can accept themselves, they can start to make significant changes.

An essential part of this process is for the therapist to validate the patient’s actions and why they make sense in the context of their personal experiences. Validating these actions and teaching the patient more effective ways to navigate circumstances in the future is critical to their success.

Every DBT session will have a structure with goals specific to the patient. Some of these goals can include:

  • Acceptance and change:
    • Patients will learn strategies that create positive change in their behaviors with themselves and others.
  • Behavioral:
    • Patients will be able to analyze and change their destructive patterns to more healthy ones.
  • Cognitive:
    • They will be able to change their unhealthy thoughts and beliefs.
  • Collaboration:
    • Patients will be able to communicate and work with others more effectively.
  • Skill sets:
    • Patients will learn new skills to cope with tough times.
  • Support:
    • They will be validated and encouraged to recognize their strengths and attributes and how to use them best.

Ultimately, this therapy aims to help patients improve their coping skills and manage strong emotions.

FAQ About Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Do you still have questions about DBT? Let’s look at some frequently asked questions. 

Can You Do DBT on your own?

DBT is a long, complex process, and we recommend you work with a trained therapist. However, there are certain skills that you can practice on your own, including breathing exercises, mindfulness, and more.

How Do I Get Started with DBT?

The best way to get started is to speak with a professional experienced with DBT. They will help you evaluate your symptoms, set goals, and create a strategy to reach them. 

How Do I Find Dialectical Behavior Therapy Near Me?

When researching a DBT therapist, ensure you find a trusted guide with a lot of experience. If you’re looking for a dialectical behavior therapist, Sunshine Care Centers can help you on that journey.

Use DBT For Your Addiction Recovery

Addiction is a devastating disease that can seriously affect your life and those around you. Getting treatment is essential in healing your mind, body, spirit, and life. Dialectical behavioral therapy can be an incredibly effective way of treating addiction and mental health disorders.

Sunshine Care Centers has a suite of medical, therapeutic, and addiction professionals with over 30 years of experience. We pride ourselves on a clean, compassionate, and secure environment that encourages recovery. We use evidence-based addiction treatment with flexible programs that cater to your needs.  

If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health concerns or addiction in North Texas or Southern California, we are here to help.

Speak to a specialist at Sunshine Care Centers by calling 883-597-CARE or message us today! 


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