What is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)?

Alternaleaf Team
Written by
Alternaleaf Team
May 21, 2024
Last updated:
May 21, 2024

Imagine waking up every day feeling like you're on an emotional rollercoaster, constantly riding the heights of happiness to the lows of rock bottom and back again. For millions facing mental health challenges like borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, or depression, this up-and-down ride is a daily reality. 

Enter Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), a beacon of hope in the world of mental health. Developed by psychologist Marsha M. Linehan in the 1980s, DBT isn't just another therapy—it's a lifeline for those navigating the stormy seas of their minds. But what makes DBT so transformative, and how does it wield its magic? 

Join us as we journey into the fascinating realm of DBT, where balance, acceptance, and change collide to illuminate the path to inner peace and resilience.

Understanding Dialectical Behaviour Therapy

DBT is built on the idea of dialectics, which means that two conflicting truths can both be true at the same time.

Sorting Through Mixed Thoughts:

In therapy, people often struggle with conflicting thoughts about themselves, their relationships, and the world. For example, someone might feel the need to connect with others but also fear rejection. Or they might want to change but feel overwhelmed by the idea.

Getting Help to Make Sense of It:

In DBT sessions, therapists help people make sense of these conflicting thoughts. Instead of seeing them as opposites, they encourage individuals to explore how both thoughts can be true and affect their lives.

Understanding and Acceptance:

This process helps people understand their thoughts and feelings better, which can lead to greater acceptance and change.

Boosting Self-Esteem:

For example, someone struggling with self-esteem might think, "I'm worthless" and "I have strengths." Through DBT, they can recognise that both thoughts have some truth. This recognition helps them see moments of doubt alongside their achievements and potential.

By using this approach, people develop a more balanced view of themselves, leading to more self-compassion and strength.

How It Works

At its core, DBT aims to equip individuals with four crucial skills:

1. Mindfulness and Acceptance

First up is becoming aware of the present moment and accepting life for what it is. Moreover, it means accepting yourself, the people in your life, and your current situation. The idea is that you can't solve a problem until you accept it. In other words, it’s about acknowledging and experiencing feelings rather than trying to ignore or avoid them.

Example: Let's say you're really anxious about a work presentation. Instead of trying to ignore the anxiety, mindfulness means recognising it without judging yourself. Take a moment, breathe deeply, and remind yourself that feeling anxious is normal. By accepting how you feel, you can deal with the situation more calmly.

2. Distress Tolerance

The second skill is about handling tough situations and negative feelings better. These include stress, anger, sadness, disappointment, and hurt. Techniques like deep breathing and journaling can help calm your mind and body when you're feeling overwhelmed.

Example: Picture this: You're stuck in traffic and late for an important appointment. Instead of freaking out, you could try techniques like deep breathing or listening to relaxing music. By accepting that you can't change the traffic, you focus on handling your reaction to it. Managing your response helps reduce stress levels and lets you arrive at your destination feeling clear-headed.

3. Emotion Regulation

Next, it's about dealing with your emotions, even when they're causing problems. Managing emotions means seeing things from different angles and avoiding black-and-white thinking. Instead of saying "but," try using "and" to stay open to other ideas.

Example:  Imagine your boss gives you some tough feedback that makes you feel defensive and angry. Instead of getting defensive right away, take a moment to think about it. You might realise that feedback can help you grow. You can respond better by acknowledging your feelings, looking at the situation differently, and calmly discussing improvements with your boss.

4. Interpersonal Effectiveness

Lastly, you'll learn how to communicate better to improve your relationships and stop conflicts from getting worse. It's all about connecting better with others.

Example: Let's say you and a friend disagree about weekend plans. Instead of getting defensive or passive-aggressive, try using communication techniques. Listen to your friend's perspective, express your needs clearly, and work together to find a solution that works for both of you. Effective communication can make your relationship stronger and positively resolve conflicts.

What To Expect From DBT Therapy

In DBT therapy, you'll experience a mix of individual and group sessions, each playing a crucial role in the therapeutic process.

Individual Sessions

In these one-on-one sessions, you'll work closely with your therapist. You'll talk about your personal challenges, set goals, and learn skills that best suit you. It's a safe space to talk about anything; your therapist will give you personalised guidance.

Group Sessions

Group sessions are also a big part of DBT. These sessions are led by a trained therapist about practising the skills you learn in individual therapy. You'll share your experiences, support each other, and learn from everyone's perspectives. Many exercises and discussions focus on mindfulness, handling tough times, managing emotions, and communicating better. By doing role-plays, solving problems together, and getting feedback from others, you'll understand these skills better and see how to use them daily.

Homework Assignments

Along with therapy sessions, you'll get homework to do. These assignments help reinforce your learning and allow you to practise new skills. You might have to write in a journal, do mindfulness exercises, or try new behaviours to see how they work. Doing your homework between sessions is crucial because it helps you keep getting better and learn more about yourself.

Phone Check-ins

Sometimes, you'll have quick check-ins with your therapist over the phone between sessions. These chats are a great way to get support and guidance when you're going through tough times. Your therapist can help you in real time and remind you of the skills you've learned. How often you have these check-ins depends on what you need, but they're always there to support you outside your regular sessions.

By participating in individual and group therapy, doing your homework, and staying connected with your therapist, you can make the most out of DBT therapy and progress towards feeling better and living a happier life.

Benefits of DBT

DBT therapy is like a toolbox full of helpful stuff for people dealing with mental health issues. Here are some of the benefits of DBT:

1. Boosts Confidence and Self-Worth

DBT helps you feel better about yourself by teaching you to accept who you are and your life situation without being hard on yourself. Through mindfulness and acceptance, you learn to see your own value and feel more sure of yourself when facing life's challenges.

2. Reduces Emotional Ups and Downs

By learning how to handle your emotions better, DBT can help you feel more stable and less like you're on a rollercoaster. You'll get the hang of recognising and dealing with big feelings so they don't overwhelm you all the time. Instead of getting tossed around by your emotions, you can handle things with a clearer head and bounce back quicker.

3. Enhances Coping Skills

DBT gives you some awesome tools to deal with stress, anxiety, and tough feelings. Techniques like staying calm when things get tough and being mindful can help you handle whatever life throws at you. It's like having a superhero belt full of gadgets to help you out when things get rough.

4. Get Along Better With Others

Ever wish you could talk to people better or solve problems without it turning into a big mess? DBT teaches you how to communicate better, set boundaries, and fix issues with others. You can build stronger relationships and feel happier and more connected by healthier interactions.

5. Reduces Harmful Behaviours

If you struggle with things like drinking too much, hurting yourself, or feeling like you want to end things, DBT can help. It teaches you new ways to deal with challenging situations and solve problems without resorting to harmful behaviours. Instead of feeling stuck, you can find better ways to cope and keep moving forward.

These benefits can really make a difference in your life, helping you feel better and live a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

Accessing DBT Treatment

Starting DBT therapy can be a big step toward feeling better mentally. Even though it might seem scary initially, there are many ways to make it happen and feel good about it.

1. Check Your Insurance

Many insurance plans cover mental health services, including DBT therapy. It's worth contacting your insurance provider to see what's available. You might be surprised at how much help you can get once you ask.

2. Find Your Perfect Match

The connection between you and your therapist is super crucial in DBT. Take your time finding someone who not only knows DBT but also feels like the right fit for you. Trust your gut and find someone you can feel comfortable and understood with.

3. Give Yourself a High Five

Choosing to go for DBT therapy is a big deal. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back for being brave and putting your mental health first. You're taking steps toward a happier life, and that's definitely something to celebrate!

4. Check Out Your Options

DBT therapy comes in different forms, like regular sessions or more intense programs. Look at what's out there and consider what might work best for you. Everyone's different, so find what suits your needs and preferences.

5. Build Your Cheer Squad

People supporting you can make a big difference during your DBT journey. Whether it's friends, family, or a support group, having folks cheering you on can boost you when things get tough.

6. Grow and Move Forward

Every step you take toward getting DBT treatment is a step toward feeling better. Keep a positive attitude, and know that each session brings you closer to feeling happier and healthier.

Approaching the process of getting DBT treatment with a positive outlook can make a big difference in how you feel and how well things go.

Practising DBT at Home

Can you practise DBT on your own at home? Absolutely. While formal DBT therapy with a trained professional is best, you can use many techniques to feel better emotionally in your daily life.

These self-help techniques go hand in hand with therapy and give you more control over your mental health journey. But remember, they're not a replacement for professional guidance.

Self-Help Techniques

Using DBT techniques outside of therapy sessions helps you keep practising the skills you learn. Here are some simple techniques inspired by DBT principles:

  • Mindful Meditation: Take a few minutes to focus on the present moment. Pay attention to your body's feelings and let your thoughts come and go without judging them.
  • Journaling: Writing down your thoughts can help you accept things you can't change and focus on what you can. It's a great way to reduce stress and determine what's important to you.
  • Cold Exposure: Try spending some time in a calm environment. It can help clear your mind and give you a little energy boost.
  • Exercise: Whether running or doing yoga, moving your body releases feel-good chemicals and helps you feel better overall.
  • Deep Breathing: Take slow, deep breaths to help your body relax. It's a simple way to ease anxiety and tension.
  • Muscle Relaxation: Tense and then relax different muscle groups to release physical tension and feel more relaxed.
  • Visualisation: Picture yourself in a calm and peaceful place. It can help reduce stress and make you feel more at ease.
  • Self-Care: Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating well, and avoiding things that can affect your mood.

Incorporating these techniques into your daily routine can reinforce the skills you learn in therapy and help you feel more emotionally strong. Remember to talk to your therapist or mental health professional for extra guidance and support along the way.

Is DBT Suitable For Me?

While DBT can be life-changing for many people, it's important to understand that it might not be the best fit for everyone.

Intellectual Disabilities and Uncontrolled Schizophrenia

People with intellectual disabilities or uncontrolled schizophrenia might not benefit from DBT as much as others. Their conditions are complex, and may need different types of therapy tailored to their specific needs.

Trauma Considerations

If you've experienced trauma, like PTSD, it's crucial to think about combining DBT with other treatments that focus on trauma. Special care is needed to make sure people with a history of trauma feel safe and supported during therapy.

Substance Abuse Issues

If you're struggling with substance abuse, DBT alone might not be enough to help you. You might need additional support to deal with withdrawal symptoms and other issues related to substance use.

Consultation with Mental Health Professionals

Before starting DBT or any therapy, it's essential to talk to a mental health professional. They can look at your specific situation, including other health conditions or past traumas, and help you decide what's best for you.

Medication Management

If you're taking medication, it's crucial to keep talking to your therapist or psychiatrist. Changing or stopping medication without guidance can affect your mood and wellbeing. Your mental health professional can help you manage your medication safely.

Personalised Care

Your mental health journey is unique, and it's essential to get support that fits your needs. Working with professionals who understand your situation can give you the right tools and resources to help you on your journey to healing and wellbeing.

Getting the right help is important for your mental health and wellbeing.

Embracing Healing and Growth with DBT

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is like a roadmap for healing and growth when life feels overwhelming. It's all about learning essential skills, like handling challenging emotions, understanding yourself better, and improving relationships.

DBT is about more than just talking. It's a mix of group sessions where you learn from others and individual sessions where you get personal help. Plus, there's homework to practice what you've learned and phone check-ins for extra support.

Starting DBT might feel scary, but it's a big step toward feeling better. Celebrate your courage, find people who cheer you on, and keep moving forward. With DBT, you're not alone on this journey.

Remember, your journey is unique, and getting help from pros ensures you're on the right path. Let DBT guide you as you navigate life's challenges with strength and hope.

Embrace the journey, embrace healing, and embrace growth with Dialectical Behaviour Therapy.

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