All About Dialectical Behavioral Therapy That You Need to Know

Are you weary of feeling overwhelmed by your emotions and having difficulty maintaining good relationships? Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is the answer. DBT is a distinct and evidence-based approach to mental health treatment that focuses on developing skills for emotion regulation, distress management, and interpersonal communication. DBT can offer you with the tools and support you need to live a more fulfilled life if you are suffering from anxiety, depression, or personality disorders. We’ll cover all you need to know about DBT in this thorough guide, from its history and important aspects to how to get started with treatment. Prepare to take the first step towards a more balanced existence with DBT.


  • DBT is recognized as an evidence-based treatment and is found to be successful in the treatment of a wide range of mental health disorders.
  • DBT provides a comprehensive and holistic approach to treatment that tackles the underlying biological and environmental factors.
  • It is organized into four stages of therapy that serve as a road map for both clients and therapists to track progress and goals.


What Is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)?

It has been demonstrated that DBT, a type of psychotherapy, is useful in treating a variety of mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depressive disorders, and borderline personality disorder. Effective emotion management skills are at the heart of DBT therapy. Emotional control, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness are other abilities taught in DBT.

Let’s imagine, that you are experiencing severe anxiety. You could employ a DBT technique like “opposite action” to lessen the intensity of your emotion rather than engaging in self-destructive behaviors. This entails doing the exact opposite of what you’re feeling like doing at the time, such taking a stroll or engaging in relaxation exercises.

DBT is helpful at lowering self-harm, suicide attempts, and hospitalizations among people with borderline personality disorder. It has also been demonstrated to be beneficial for people with other mental health issues, like eating disorders and substance use disorders.

Brief History of DBT

Dr. Marsha Linehan created the dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) in the late 1980s. Here is a quick chronology of DBT’s development:

1980s: In the 1980s, Dr. Linehan started working with people who had borderline personality disorder (BPD) and discovered that conventional therapies were ineffective in treating this group. She started working on what later become DBT, a novel therapeutic strategy.

1991: “Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder,” a treatment handbook written by Dr. Linehan, was released in 1991 in its initial version.

1993: 1993 saw the completion of the first DBT randomized controlled trial, which revealed that DBT was superior to standard care in lowering hospitalisations and suicide attempts among BPD patients.

1993–1997: DBT underwent more development and expansion to cover care for patients with additional mental health issues, including eating and substance use problems.

2002: “Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder,” was released in 2002 in its second edition.

2014: A meta-analysis of 11 research on the efficacy of DBT revealed that it reduced suicidal behavior, self-harm, and hospitalizations among people with BPD more effectively than standard care.

DBT has evolved is adapted for use in a range of settings since its inception. DBT is recognized as an evidence-based treatment is found successful in the treatment of a wide range of other mental health disorders.

Read Blog: What is the difference between DBT and CBT Therapy?

When to Apply Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is beneficial in the treatment of a wide range of mental health issues. Based on scientific evidence, these are some instances when DBT may be a beneficial therapy option:

1. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD):

DBT was originally designed as a treatment for people suffering from BPD, and research has consistently shown that it is successful in lowering self-harm, suicide attempts, and hospitalization’s in people suffering from this illness.

2. Substance use disorders:

DBT has been found in studies to be beneficial in reducing substance use and improving treatment results for those suffering from substance use disorders.

Read Blog: How to Overcome Substance Abuse and Help Yourself?

3. Eating Disorders:

Studies have indicated that DBT can be beneficial for people suffering from eating disorders, particularly in terms of lowering binge eating and purging behaviors.

Read Blog: Treatment and Interventions for Eating Disorder and Self-help Strategies for Speedy Recovery

4. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

DBT has been developed for use in treating patients with PTSD, and research has shown that it is beneficial in lowering PTSD symptoms and enhancing quality of life.

5. Depression and Anxiety:

While DBT was not designed as a treatment for depression or anxiety, research has shown that it can help with these symptoms as well.

Overall, if someone is experiencing powerful emotions, self-destructive behavior, or other mental health issues, DBT may be a viable treatment option to investigate.

Unique and important Elements of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

In therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) emphasizes the significance of acceptance and change. Here are some of DBT’s distinctive and crucial features:

  • DBT is based on the premise that two seemingly contradictory facts can be true at the same time. A person, for example, may want to improve their behavior while also accepting themselves as they are. It assists individuals in navigating these opposing pressures and finding a balance.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy emphasizes the significance of mindfulness, which is defined as paying attention to the present moment without judgement. Mindfulness helps people become more aware of their thoughts and feelings, and it can teach them how to better regulate their emotions.
  • DBT provides methods for dealing with upsetting events, such as crisis survival and self-soothing techniques. These abilities enable people to cope with stress without engaging in hazardous or destructive behaviors.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy teaches emotional management and emotion regulation techniques such as detecting and labelling emotions, boosting good emotions, and lowering negative emotions.
  • DBT contains tools for enhancing communication and interpersonal relationships. These abilities can assist individuals in setting boundaries, requesting what they require, and maintaining healthy relationships.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy provides clients with a holistic approach to treatment that can help them attain better acceptance and transformation in their life by embracing unique aspects such as dialectics, mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.

The five functions of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a comprehensive therapy program that addresses a wide range of mental health disorders. It is not a single therapeutic procedure used by a single practitioner. Clinicians are frequently interested in using DBT, but the thought of administering such a comprehensive treatment is intimidating. The most important aspect of any DBT program, however, is whether it addresses the five core functions of treatment.

  • Capability Enhancement: This function entails assisting clients in developing skills and behaviours that will help them cope with life’s obstacles. Mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion management, and interpersonal effectiveness are examples of abilities that could be taught in this role.

Read Blog: How to understand and control your emotions?

  • Generalization: Generalization is the process of assisting clients in applying the abilities they gain in treatment to real-world situations. For example, if a client learns distress tolerance skills in therapy, they may be encouraged to use those abilities when confronted with a stressful scenario in their daily life.
  • Motivational Enhancement: This function assists clients in developing and maintaining motivation to continue with therapy. A therapist, for example, can utilise motivational interviewing techniques to assist a client suffering from substance abuse disorder in recognising the negative effects of their behaviour and being more motivated to make changes.
  • Enhancing and Maintaining Therapist Capabilities and Motivation: This function is responsible for ensuring that DBT therapists are well-trained and motivated to continue with the treatment. Continuing education, supervision, and support can assist therapists in remaining engaged and effective in their practice.
  • Setting Structure/environment: This function entails building a treatment setting that is supportive, safe, and conducive to recovery. A therapist, for example, can devise an organized calendar of therapy sessions and homework assignments to assist clients in meeting their treatment objectives.

While the basic DBT package has the most empirical evidence, varied settings and situations may need new and inventive DBT uses. However, in all circumstances, any adaptation of DBT must serve the five main purposes of treatment to ensure that clients receive the best possible care.

The relationship of DBT and the biosocial theory

The founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Marsha Linehan, based her treatment method mainly on the biosocial theory of personality. According to the biosocial theory, a person’s biology and environment interact to determine their emotional and behavioral responses to their surroundings.

The biosocial theory claims that individuals with borderline personality disorder, for example, have heightened sensitivity to emotional cues and trouble regulating their emotions due to both biological and environmental causes.

DBT is intended to address the unique issues that occur as a result of this biosocial personality model. DBT is related to biosocial theory in several important ways:

  • Emotion Dysregulation: According to the biosocial theory, people with borderline personality disorder have a dysregulated emotional system. This is addressed in DBT via the use of emotion regulation skills, which assist individuals in identifying and managing powerful emotions in healthy ways.

Read Blog: Emotional Dysfunction: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment for Better Emotional Health

  • Invalidating circumstances: According to the biosocial theory, people with borderline personality disorder are frequently raised in invalidating circumstances, where their emotional experiences are discounted or neglected. DBT addresses this by fostering a therapeutic atmosphere that allows clients to feel heard and understood.
  • Skill Deficits: According to the biosocial hypothesis, individuals with borderline personality disorder frequently lack the required abilities to successfully manage their emotions. DBT tackles this by teaching clients a variety of skills such as mindfulness, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness.
  • Behavioral concepts: DBT is largely influenced by behaviorist concepts, which emphasize the role of reinforcement and punishment in changing behavior. Therapists employ reinforcement in DBT to encourage clients to use their skills efficiently while also punishing problematic behaviors that may be impeding progress.

DBT provides a comprehensive and holistic approach to treatment that tackles the underlying biological and environmental factors that contribute to emotional dysregulation and other difficulties by drawing on the biosocial theory of personality.

The four stages of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is often organized into four stages of therapy that serve as a road map for both clients and therapists to track progress and goals. These four stages are meant to build on one another, with each offering new skills and challenges to the client. The four stages of DBT are as follows:

  • Stage 1: This stage focuses on crisis management and stabilisation. Clients acquire basic emotion regulation and distress tolerance skills to aid in the management of powerful emotions and the reduction of impulsive or self-destructive behaviours. This stage is critical for clients who are in crisis or who are at high risk of suicide or self-harm.
  • Stage 2: It focuses on decreasing harmful behaviors while enhancing adaptive behaviors. Clients expand on the abilities they learned in Stage 1 while also exploring interpersonal effectiveness skills such as communication and conflict resolution. Clients may also attempt to change harmful behavior’s like substance abuse or binge eating.
  • Stage 3: This stage focuses on enhancing one’s quality of life and reaching personal objectives. Clients continue to hone their skills while also focusing on creating a life worth living. Setting and achieving personal objectives, enhancing relationships, and discovering a sense of purpose or meaning in life are all examples of this.
  • Stage 4: The goal of this stage is to achieve a sense of wholeness and connectedness. Clients seek to gain a better understanding of themselves and their emotions, as well as to address spiritual or existential concerns. This stage is frequently concerned with preserving progress and avoiding relapse.

DBT’s four stages give a clear framework for treatment and allow therapists to adjust treatment to each client’s unique requirements. DBT helps clients create a firm foundation for long-term emotional control and well-being by gradually introducing new skills and challenges.

Read Blog: Application and purpose of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) in counseling

1. Can You Do Dialectical Behavior Therapy On Your Own?

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is a complete treatment that includes individual therapy, group skills training, and phone coaching. While receiving DBT from a skilled therapist is advised, there are some resources accessible for individuals who want to learn more about DBT or practise some of the techniques on their own. Consider the following crucial points:

While it is not advised to attempt DBT entirely on your own, there are some resources available to assist you in learning more about DBT and practicing some of the skills. There are various self-help books and workbooks available, for example, that provide information about DBT skills and activities that you can practice at home.

If you want to learn more about DBT, you should contact a certified DBT therapist who can guide and support you while you practise the skills. Individual DBT therapy sessions or skills groups are offered by some therapists, which can give a more structured and comprehensive treatment experience. It is also advisable to enroll in a course to learn more about Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

It is crucial to emphasise that DBT is a sophisticated and difficult treatment that not everyone should attempt on their own. For example, if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviours, you should get professional help right once.

2. How to Get Started With Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

If you want to get started with Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), there are various stages you can take:

  • Find a DBT-trained therapist: The first step is to locate a DBT-trained therapist. Referrals can be obtained from your primary care physician, insurance provider, or a mental health practitioner. You can also look online for therapists that specialize in DBT in your area.
  • Make an appointment: Once you’ve found a therapist who offers DBT, contact their clinic and make an appointment. During your first session, you and your therapist will examine your treatment goals and determine whether DBT is the best treatment for you.
  • Begin therapy sessions: If you and your therapist agree that DBT is the best treatment for you, you will begin therapy sessions. Individual treatment, group skills training, and phone coaching are common components of DBT. Your therapist will collaborate with you to create a treatment plan that is tailored to your individual requirements.
  • Attend group skills training: DBT entails attending group skills training sessions in addition to individual therapy. These sessions, which usually take place once a week for several months, teach specific DBT skills such as mindfulness, emotion control, and interpersonal effectiveness.
  • Practice DBT skills: In order to succeed in DBT, it is critical to put the skills you acquire in therapy and group skills training into practice in your daily life. Your therapist will work with you to create a strategy for practicing and implementing these skills into your everyday routine.
  • Maintain your commitment: DBT is a difficult and complex treatment, and it may take some time to see results. It is critical to be dedicated to the treatment and to attend therapy and group skills training sessions as directed by your therapist.

3. How does a Dialectical Behavior Therapy based therapy session look like?

Here are sneak-peek into on how a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) session might look:

  • A typical DBT session lasts around an hour and is held on a weekly basis. The frequency and duration of sessions, however, may vary depending on individual requirements and treatment goals.
  • The session may be held one-on-one with the therapist or in a group setting with other people receiving DBT treatment. Participants in group sessions engage in various exercises, such as mindfulness practises or role-playing games, to assist them develop coping skills and improve communication.
  • The therapist may begin the appointment by going over homework from the previous session and discussing progress towards treatment goals. Homework assignments may include mindfulness practise or other coping skills.
  • The therapist may utilize several DBT techniques, such as validation and problem-solving strategies, during the session to assist the individual in developing new abilities for managing emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.
  • Diary cards may also be used by the therapist to track progress and find trends in the individual’s thoughts and behaviors.
  • The therapist will prioritize providing a supportive and non-judgmental environment throughout the session in order to foster open conversation and trust.
  • The therapist may conclude the session by assigning homework and discussing any impending obstacles or goals to work on before the next appointment.

A DBT session, in general, strives to offer a secure and organised setting in which clients can build skills for dealing with unpleasant emotions and situations in their daily life.

How effective is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

Here are some major points of DBT’s efficacy:

  • DBT has been proven in studies to be an effective treatment for lowering self-harm and suicidal behavior in people with borderline personality disorder (Linehan et al., 2015).
  • It has also been demonstrated to be useful in treating substance use disorders, with research indicating that it can aid in the reduction of substance use and the improvement of general functioning (Dimeff et al., 2009).
  • DBT has also been demonstrated in studies to be useful in the treatment of eating disorders, notably binge eating disorder (Safer et al., 2010).
  • It has been demonstrated to be useful in improving overall emotional regulation and quality of life in addition to these specific disorders (Neacsiu et al., 2010).
  • One of DBT’s strengths is its emphasis on skill development and giving clients with practical tools for controlling emotions and behaviors. This might give people a sense of empowerment and control over their lives. DBT is often provided in a group format, which can provide clients with additional support and a sense of community.

While DBT is a systematic and thorough treatment, studies have shown that DBT modifications can be beneficial in a range of contexts, including schools and community mental health centers (Perepletchikova & Axelrod, 2016). While it may not be the ideal fit for everyone, it is worth trying if you struggle with mood management, impulsivity, or self-destructive behaviors.

Case study on Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Angela, a 28-year-old woman, sought therapy for her difficulties with emotional dysregulation. She described tremendous and overwhelming emotions, especially when confronted with stressful situations or interpersonal disputes. These feelings frequently resulted in impulsive behaviors including binge eating, substance misuse, and self-harm.

Angela was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) after an evaluation, a condition that is usually associated with emotional dysregulation. Her therapist advised her to undertake Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a thorough program meant to assist individuals in learning new coping skills and developing more effective ways of managing their emotions.

Angela and her therapist collaborated during the first round of therapy to identify specific triggers that exacerbated her emotional dysregulation. They also talked about DBT’s four main components, which are mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. Angela learnt how to employ mindfulness practices to stay in the present moment even while her emotions were raging. She also learned how to apply distress tolerance strategies to cope with unpleasant feelings without turning to impulsive behavior.

Angela worked on building emotion management skills as therapy continued. She learned to identify and categorize her emotions, as well as how to minimize their strength when they got overwhelming. She also learnt to question negative thoughts and beliefs, which frequently exacerbated her mental distress.

Finally, Angela improved her interpersonal efficacy, which enabled her to manage social settings and relationships more effectively. She learnt how to assertively convey her wants and boundaries without getting defensive or angry.

Angela’s emotional dysregulation improved over time, and she was able to manage her emotions more successfully without engaging in impulsive behavior. She stated that she felt more confidence in her abilities to deal with stress and interpersonal issues. She also felt more connected to people and happier in her relationships.


Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is an effective treatment for people who want to enhance their emotional regulation, communication skills, and overall quality of life. Individuals can learn to regulate unpleasant emotions, cope with stress, and form more rewarding relationships by engaging with a competent therapist and committing to developing DBT skills. Whether you’re dealing with a specific mental health issue or simply want to improve your personal development, DBT provides a holistic method to reaching your goals. So, why delay? Explore DBT and all it has to offer today to take the first step towards a brighter future. The opportunities for growth and healing are actually limitless when you make a commitment to self-improvement and work with a supportive therapist.

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