What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)? | Overview, Techniques, & Why It Works

Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS

on July 26, 2023

Dialectical behavior therapy helps people with mental illness change their thoughts and behavior. The focus is living in the moment and recognizing how thoughts affect behavior and how behavior affects all areas of life.

Ohio Recovery Center offers a range of evidence-based treatments for mental health disorders. One of our treatment options is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). 

Dialectical behavior therapy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It was developed by Marsha Linehan for the treatment of borderline personality disorder (BPD). 

Today, DBT is used to improve the quality of life of people with many mental health conditions, such as:

DBT helps people change negative behaviors by teaching them healthier ways to relate to themselves, others, and the world around them.

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Overview Of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavior therapy treatment focuses on emotions and emotion regulation. You’ll learn coping skills that help you deal with negative emotions and develop positive thought patterns. There are five functions of DBT.

1. Enhancing Capabilities

DBT emphasizes mindfulness skills—the ability to pay attention to the present moment, be aware of your surroundings, and be intentional in how you relate to people. 

Many individuals with mental health disorders feel guilty about the past or worry about the future. These stressful thoughts keep you from living in the present and connecting with others. 

In DBT, a mental health professional will work with you to improve your:

  • Emotional regulation skills: keeping your emotional response appropriate to the situation and balanced (without dramatic highs and lows)
  • Interpersonal effectiveness: communicating and creating relationships with other people
  • Distress tolerance skills: developing healthy ways of dealing with stress and difficult situations, such as deep breathing and meditation

2. Generalizing Capabilities

Your capabilities are things you are able to do but need to practice in everyday life. In dialectical behavior therapy, you apply what you learn. You’ll develop new skills and improve existing abilities that you can use at home with guidance from a therapist. 

DBT work may include homework assignments, like practicing self-respect and self-soothing when you feel like self-harm or suicidal behavior. 

Your therapist might offer phone coaching to encourage you and ensure you stay on track. Their input can help you see what you’re doing wrong if you’re struggling.

3. Improving Motivation & Reducing Dysfunctional Behaviors

DBT motivates people to change by encouraging them to pay attention to how their behavior affects their lives. It teaches how to reduce unwanted behaviors that prevent you from having a fulfilling life.

In DBT, you learn how to reduce dysfunctional behaviors by:

  • paying attention to how you act
  • recognizing self-destructive behaviors
  • thinking about why you did something
  • noticing how your actions affect other areas of your life
  • practicing different ways of problem-solving
  • staying mindful and regulating your emotional responses

4. Enhancing & Maintaining Therapist Capabilities & Motivation 

Dialectical behavior therapy sessions can be difficult for the therapist and the patient. It’s a form of therapy that involves intense emotions. DBT therapists need support, encouragement, and training to ensure they can provide the best care.

5. Structuring The Environment

The environment you live in has a profound effect on your emotions and behaviors. Part of DBT is restructuring your surroundings so you can live in a more positive state of mind.

This may mean decluttering your home, breaking ties with people who trigger negative actions, or building a support system for loved ones.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Techniques

Dialectical behavior therapy uses the techniques of emotional regulation, dialectical thinking, and acceptance to heal mental health disorders. DBT can take place in individual therapy and group therapy settings.

Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation is controlling your emotions rather than letting them control you. You must recognize, understand, and label your emotions to keep them in check. In DBT, a therapist responds to your emotional reactions and guides you to a healthier emotional response.

Controlling your emotions is essential to controlling your behavior. It also plays a role in your relationships with others. When you’re able to be reasonable rather than having a quick temper or being easily driven to tears, you get along better with people.

Dialectical Thinking

Dialectical thinking is seeking a balance between opposing forces. In DBT treatment, the patient often wants to be accepted for who they are but they need to change. 

It’s the therapist’s role to keep the balance between accepting the person and helping them become someone better. They can’t change everything, but they can’t accept everything.

Dialectical thinking also helps the patient turn away from black-and-white thinking, or all-or-nothing thinking. When you think like this, everything has to go perfectly or the world falls apart. These negative thought patterns trigger symptoms of mental health issues.

Acceptance & Mindfulness

Acceptance and mindfulness help you calmly take things as they come rather than reacting in a volatile way. 

The practice of acceptance and mindfulness teaches you to:

  • not resist or try to change the present
  • observe experiences without judgment
  • be fully present in the moment
  • do one thing at a time
  • focus on effective behavior

In DBT, the therapist validates your experience, thoughts, and opinions. They acknowledge your worth as a person who has gone through real struggles. Then they help you avoid the same struggles in the future by being more mindful of how you live your life.

Why Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Works

Some mental health programs only deal with the symptoms of behavioral disorders. Or they may try to change the way you think without examining your actions. 

Dialectical behavior therapy is an effective treatment because it targets and resolves the root of the problem. It:

  • changes how you feel, act, and react
  • replaces negative behaviors with healthy coping strategies
  • reduces triggers by altering thoughts and emotions
  • helps you tolerate stress and distress
  • helps you relate to others better
  • teaches you life skills that build a more meaningful life

DBT doesn’t rely on willpower or goals without a strategy. It works to make you a stronger person.
Dialectical behavior therapy at Ohio Recovery Center is part of an inpatient program that combines evidence-based therapies into a personalized recovery plan. Speak with one of our specialists today to learn more.

  1. Psychiatry https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2963469/

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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