Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
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What Is DBT Therapy And How Does It Work?
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is an empirically-supported, research-driven treatment method for addressing a wide array of presenting health issues, including anxiety and depression disorders, interpersonal stress, PTSD, and substance use. DBT works, in part, by providing clients with tangible strategies and practical skills for decreasing stress, improving relationships, and changing behaviors to align with therapeutic goals.
Acceptance and change are basic tenets of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Working in tandem, these two ideas empower individuals to strive toward growth while encouraging them to be gentle with themselves and where they are in their struggles. That means making sure everyone feels as comfortable as possible by giving them a space free of judgment where they can control the pace of sessions and decide their own goals for therapy.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy—an offshoot of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)—was founded in the 1970s by Psychologist Marsha Linehan. DBT’s original intent was to help individuals, particularly women, improve coping skills for addressing depression, suicidal ideation, and self-harm.
Over time, DBT was shown to help people alleviate symptoms and change behaviors associated with a range of issues, many of which did not respond to other forms of treatment. Today, DBT is considered a highly effective approach to treating addiction, trauma, mood disorders, and other conditions, including Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
One study by Stiglmayr et al (2014) reports that participants “significantly improved regarding self-injurious behaviors, number of inpatient stays, severity of borderline symptoms and psychopathology. At the end of the first treatment year, 77% of the patients no longer met criteria for BPD diagnosis.”
In a 2002 efficacy study, evidence suggested that participants assigned to DBT therapy “maintained reductions in mean opiate use through 12 months of active treatment” while non-DBT participants “significantly increased opiate use during the last 4 months of treatment.”
So, in addition to being highly effective, DBT is also incredibly versatile.
What Sessions Look Like And How DBT Therapy Can Help
Our therapists at Key Counseling Group use DBT therapy to help adults acquire strategies for addressing substance use/addiction, depression, anxiety, and social or identity-related concerns. Our approach is particularly helpful because it gives clients concrete skills they can use at home to better manage symptoms, tolerate stress, and change unhealthy behaviors.
Some of the DBT strategies we teach clients include—
Mindfulness—being present within the moment and learning to sit with thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations
Distress Tolerance—increasing one’s ability to endure and persevere through difficult situations or feelings
Interpersonal Effectiveness—enhancing communication, self-advocacy, and other relationship skills
Emotional Regulation—broadening one’s capacity to understand and cope with emotions
In addition, we frequently use journaling assignments outside of sessions that help folks keep a record of their symptoms, moods, and impulses on a daily basis. Because DBT allows our counselors to track progress across various domains, it has the ability to perfectly align with a client’s goals for therapy. For instance, if someone wants to address their alcohol consumption, we can work on distress tolerance skills, track if and when the client drank or had urges to drink, and modify treatment as we go.
How Does DBT Therapy Differ From Other Forms Of Treatment?
Dialectical Behavior Therapy can help offer relief in new ways because it increases clients’ sense of accountability and allows them to take agency over the therapeutic process. DBT can also help people who have typically felt “stuck” in their progress with therapy in the past. That’s because DBT focuses on building effective life skills, reinforcing the client’s ability to tolerate distressing emotions, and interrupting unhealthy thoughts or behavioral patterns.
At the same time, we teach clients concrete strategies for regulating their emotions, staying present in the moment, and improving communication within interpersonal relationships. All of these skills can be used both in and outside of sessions to help individuals increase self-awareness and provide insight into their thoughts, feelings, and behavior. By uncovering these patterns, clients can improve their relationships, find greater peace within themselves, and build a life that’s more fulfilling all around.
To ensure we are being as comprehensive as possible, we also utilize elements of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, strengths-based work, and person-in-environment (PIE) theory. All of these concepts, including DBT counseling, put the client at the center of the healing process.
In the short term, Dialectical Behavior Therapy can help folks find validation, support, and some form of immediate relief. It’s also a great way to help those who feel stuck in their therapeutic progress get over the hump and start moving again.
This approach empowers clients to make long-term, sustainable change by generating greater self-awareness, addressing core issues, and using tried-and-true DBT strategies. Combined, these resources can help clients manage complex situations, navigate relationships, and overcome adversity throughout the course of their lives.
Let Us Help You Make Greater Strides In Therapy With DBT
If you’re looking for a practical approach to therapy that has been proven to create results, our DBT counselors can help.