Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: What it is and How it Works

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: What it is and How it Works
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: What it is and How it Works

Have you been finding it tough to have productive and positive thoughts in the middle of a global pandemicDialectical behavioral therapy might be an effective method for addressing your mental health concerns both during and after this phase of quarantining.

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Dialectical behavioral therapy (or DBT) is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that specifically seeks to switch negative thoughts to positive behaviors.

It aims to push a patient to live in the moment and to develop healthy ways to cope with stress, negative thoughts and feelings, and to improve their relationship with others.

If you are unsure that you are experiencing a symptom of a mental health disorder, you can take advantage of online resources to assess and expand your knowledge on the subject, such as on Mind Diagnostics.

However, it is important to look that the results of an online test do not replace an official diagnosis from a professional.

In fact, no online resource can diagnose you (other than an online professional, of course) and self-diagnosis can lead to an onslaught of problems, most notable of which is mistreating your symptoms.

What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

It developed to treat patients with borderline personality disorder, DBT has been further adapted to also help with other mental health conditions.

The first thing to explain about DBT is its name. Dialectical means putting together two opposites, acceptance and change, which is an idea central to the procedures that happen in DBT.

A therapist using this type of therapy, therefore, will invite the patient to accept their experiences and work to change their negative behaviors. DBT and the skills it teaches can be found in group therapy, individual therapy, or phone coaching.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

How does it work?

Along with the details mentioned above, DBT also includes four specific strategies or modules. Below, each one is listed and explained in more depth.

Core Mindfulness

DBT helps patients develop mindfulness skills, which means living in the present and staying focused.

With these skills, therapists helps clients learn more about themselves; they tend to begin by paying attention to what is happening around their thoughts, feelings and sensations, while at the same time being aware of their surroundings using their senses (vision, hearing, smell, and touch).  Mindfulness skills are designed to slow down our minds and force us to refocus our attention on our immediate surroundings instead.

This is a great way to break thought patterns, and it’s much easier to think rationally about your emotions once you’ve been removed from them a bit.

Distress Tolerance

Instead of focusing on changing distressing events, DBT aims at helping the patient to accept life’s occurrences without judgement.

Acceptance doesn’t mean approval, and it certainly doesn’t mean forgetting. It just means coming to terms with what happened and realizing that it’s in the past, that you can grow from it, and that you have the power to avoid it in the future.

Practicing this skill makes it more likely that a patient will have a higher tolerance for, or find it easier to operate in, what previously would have been considered a distressing situation.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

In this module, patients learn how to interact with others and how to improve their interpersonal skills.

Instead of closing themselves off, DBT encourages patients to practice vulnerability. This process might include learning how to say no, learning how to approach and deal with conflict, and understanding that the actions of others don’t necessarily reflect back on you.

These skills can significantly improve mental health while keeping any relationships in a patient’s life as positive and healthy as they can be.

Emotion Regulation

Of course, it is also important to know how to cope with emotions.

In this step, patients develop skills for regulating their emotions, which include learning:

  • to identify what you are feeling.
  • to pinpoint what is changing your emotions.
  • to increase positive emotions.
  • to be mindful about your feelings and sensations.
  • to apply distress techniques.

Is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy right for you?

DBT might be the therapy you need if you experience:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderlinepersonalitydisorder (BPD)
  • Generalizedanxietydisorder (GAD)
  • Depressivedisorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance use disorder

This list is certainly not exhaustive, but encompasses many of the most common mental illnesses.

DBT is also a good option even if you’re not diagnosed with a mental illness; anyone looking to improve their mental health can benefit from the skills DBT teaches, including those above and also:

  • Accepting, changing, and tolerating situations and emotions related to what you went through and with yourself.
  • Developing a positive approach toward life.
  • Better understanding your own behaviors and learning how to identify those that are destructive or that could bring future problems.
  • Identifying which thoughts, feelings and behaviors aren’t healthy.
  • Learning how to be more collaborative when it comes to building and maintaining relationships.


If you believe that you’d benefit from developing any of the skills mentioned above, DBT may be a good option for you.

It is important to note that only professional licensed therapists can provide the sort of care these mental health concerns often require. Look for one that fits your criteria and that you feel comfortable with if you decide that DBT is something you’d like to pursue.

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