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What Is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy?

Health & Wellness
Jul 20, 2022

What Is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy?

Through dialectical behaviour therapy, you can improve your coping skills or assist a friend or family member who is currently faced with intense emotions. It is a powerful therapeutic tool that, regardless of a person's age, has been shown to be successful in treating a variety of conditions. This article explores this technique in more detail.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Defined

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is a form of psychotherapy that was developed in the 1980s by Dr Marsha Linehan. It has become widely known in recent years for its effectiveness in treating borderline personality disorder (BPD), which is characterised by unstable moods, impulsive behaviours, self-harming tendencies and intense feelings of emptiness. People with BPD often experience difficulties in relationships and employment, and they struggle with managing their emotions.

DBT focuses on skills training to assist patients in managing their emotions and impulses, as well as improving their interpersonal relationships. The goal is to teach them to recognise and respond appropriately to emotional triggers and to regulate their emotions.

What Are the Benefits of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy?

DBT is one of the best mental health services for a wide range of mental health conditions, aiming to provide people with critical distress tolerance skills that will assist them in achieving self-acceptance and positive changes in their lives. Participants in DBT programs are more likely to cooperate and are less likely to be upset by the thought of change, whether they receive therapy in a community setting or in a private setting that provides tailored, individual therapy. The benefits of working with a certified DBT therapist include:

  • Developing acceptance and tolerance strategies for your life circumstances and emotional dysregulation
  • Improving your behaviour and interpersonal relationships
  • Learning to analyse problems or destructive behaviour patterns that need to be replaced with more healthy and effective ones
  • Identifying and changing harmful thought and belief patterns
  • Communicating effectively
  • Improving your quality of life by honing emotion regulation skills
  • Recognising and leveraging your positive strengths and attributes to achieve your goal

How Does DBT Work?

A qualified dialectical behaviour therapy practitioner focuses on assisting you in gaining control of your behaviour by guiding you in identifying harmful behaviours and replacing them with positive ones. DBT is based on a strong relationship between you and your therapist, which motivates you to change your behaviour and achieve your goals.

Individual or group therapy sessions can be conducted in a mental health setting, or remotely via phone or an online communication platform. Depending on the level of emotional reaction that needs to be treated, this evidence-based treatment may require a 6-month or 12-month follow-up session.

What Conditions Can It Help With?

Although it was initially developed to help people with borderline personality disorder, this type of behavioural therapy is also an effective treatment for the following:

What Are the Main Techniques Used in a DBT Session?

Dialectical behaviour therapy is used by mental health professionals trained in a variety of evidence-based practices, including cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness, to treat a wide range of mental health conditions. DBT skills consist of four main components: distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, mindfulness and emotional regulation.

Distress Tolerance

You practise the art of accepting change in your life when you learn distress tolerance. Here are a few techniques that can teach you how to better manage and deal with any crisis in your life:

  • Concentrate on how to deal with stressful situations
  • Learn to calm yourself
  • Find ways to divert your attention
  • Determine the benefits and drawbacks of tolerating negative emotions


The development of mindfulness skills is a significant benefit of DBT. Mindfulness allows you to pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and impulses while also using your five senses to tune in to what is going on around you in a non-judgmental manner.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

This DBT technique teaches you how to be more decisive in a relationship while keeping it positive and healthy. You will learn how to listen and improve communication, how to deal with difficult people, and how to respect yourself and others.

Emotion Regulation

Although emotional regulation skills are typically taught last in therapy sessions, they will benefit all aspects of your daily life. Emotion regulation is the process of learning to navigate powerful emotions like anger, sadness and jealousy more effectively.

Four main skills taught in a dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) sessionSource: Addiction Resource

Borderline personality disorder is a serious mental illness that affects one-quarter of the Australian population. While it is not gender specific, studies show that it is more prevalent in women. Teenagers and young adults with borderline personality disorder are frequently hospitalised, and suicidal women are not uncommon. People with bipolar spectrum disorder require ongoing treatment as well because of the recurrence of their condition.

Psychological therapy for adolescents and adults with these conditions is critical to their overall health and wellbeing. If you or someone you know is suffering from BPD, have the heart to help them find support and assistance, preferably from a mental health professional with advanced skills such as dialectical behaviour therapy.

FAQs About Dialectical Behaviour Therapy

What does a DBT session look like?

Although you can work with an individual therapist, DBT group sessions are more common and are more akin to taking a social interaction course than a therapy session. The group learns a new skill from the skills training manual each week. Additionally, they are given tasks to complete at home, usually mindfulness skills to practise in real life.

Can I do DBT on my own?

Going to DBT sessions led by trained therapists usually works better than doing DBT on your own. Unlike CBT, DBT techniques can be difficult to learn on your own, so doing it yourself will not guarantee the best results.

Is DBT effective for anxiety?

Yes, it is. DBT is increasingly being used as an effective approach for managing anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder, as well as substance use disorder treatment.

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