What You Need To Know About Dialectical Behavior Therapy

What You Need To Know About Dialectical Behavior Therapy

From Imran Ali

For some people, their emotions are so strong and persistent that they get in the way of their happiness, relationships, and mental well-being.

Support this campaign

Subscribe to follow campaign updates!

More Info

This post was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.

If you’ve ever struggled to keep your emotions in check, then you know how difficult it can be. For some people, their emotions are so strong and persistent that they get in the way of their happiness, relationships, and mental well-being. Instead of learning how to control their emotions, they’ve been conditioned to be led by them. One approach that has shown promise in helping people with these types of challenges is dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT.

This technique seeks to help people experiencing emotional dysregulation and is much like playing a sport for the first time. When you’re just beginning a new sport, everything is unfamiliar to you, and you may wonder if you’re going to be any good. Then, as time goes on and you build your skills and confidence, many aspects of the sport that were once intimidating are now testaments to how far you’ve come.

The same applies to DBT. While it might take time to learn and implement the principles taught in DBT, with effort and consistency, you can forge a path to a healthier, more productive life.

Here, we’ll go over several important pieces of information about dialectical behavior therapy to add to your knowledge base.

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

Dialectical behavior therapy, abbreviated DBT, is a structured type of talk therapy that can be used to manage and treat a variety of mental health conditions. People engaging in DBT learn how to cope with intense emotions, manage distress, and form healthier interpersonal relationships by adopting four core skills. DBT has several parts to it, which people may complete at differing rates depending on their needs and responses to the program.

The History Of DBT

In the 1970s, American psychologist Marsha Linehan was doing research on suicidal individuals and discovered that behavioral therapy approaches were ineffective in helping them. She tried a humanistic approach and found that that didn’t work either. So, Linehan created a therapeutic method that combined elements of cognitive behavioral therapy and humanistic therapy with a touch of dialectics, and that’s where DBT was born.

In 1991, it was officially accepted as a scientifically valid treatment method for individuals experiencing mental health struggles. DBT was originally created to help people living with borderline personality disorder, but it has since expanded to treat individuals experiencing a range of concerns.

How Does DBT Work?

DBT is a process that every client works through at a different speed. This structured treatment program has four unique components, which are:

Clients move through these different phases at their own unique pace, usually in varying orders. The therapist remains responsible for the structure of the program and leading the client through it—whatever that may entail.

What Is DBT Used For?

Dialectical behavior therapy is often used to assist individuals who struggle to manage and regulate their emotions. While it was designed to treat people living with borderline personality disorder (BPD), that isn’t its only use. Some of the conditions and concerns that may be managed or treated by using DBT include the following:


       Eating disorders

       Emotional dysregulation


       Substance use disorder

       Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)


       Shame or guilt



       Suicidal ideations or attempts


       Anger issues

Mental health professionals may recommend DBT in a variety of situations and concerns, including those not listed above.

The 4 DBT Skills Explained

DBT seeks to help people adopt four skills that they can carry with them and utilize in their everyday lives. These four skills include:

 1. Mindfulness: Mindfulness refers to the practice of staying in the moment and observing any thoughts, feelings, or sensations that occur without judging or interpreting them. Instead of getting caught up in rumination or negative thought cycles, mindfulness encourages individuals to come back to the present. In the context of DBT, its goals are to promote emotional regulation in the face of difficult emotions and nurture self-acceptance regardless of the client’s thoughts or feelings.

2. Distress Tolerance: Distress tolerance is a skill that allows people to stay calm, level-headed, and emotionally regulated even in the midst of intense emotions. In DBT, clients learn how to manage distressing feelings in a healthy way, rather than becoming angry and overwhelmed, or turning to unhealthy and self-destructive coping methods.

3. Emotion Regulation: Emotion regulation refers to the ability to understand and manage strong emotions without letting them worsen. When clients learn about emotion regulation in DBT, they may practice identifying and naming their emotions out loud, coming up with helpful steps to calm down, and dealing with the situation productively. This skill can improve the client’s interpersonal relationships as well as their mental well-being.

4. Interpersonal Effectiveness: Interpersonal effectiveness is all about building and maintaining healthy relationships, which often requires skills like patience, empathy, effective communication, active listening, conflict resolution, boundary-setting, and self-awareness. DBT teaches interpersonal effectiveness because the quality of one’s relationships can impact their self-esteem, mental health, sense of belonging and purpose, confidence, and overall happiness.

How Long Does DBT Take?

DBT typically takes people six months to complete, but in many cases, people need a year or longer to get through the full program. However, the amount of time it takes varies from person to person depending on their response to treatment, symptom severity, and ability to access regular sessions. Some people have to repeat certain modules as well, which can extend the length of the program.

Life After DBT

In many cases, results from dialectical behavior therapy aren't observed until treatment is nearly complete, and some people may need more than one cycle of treatment. However, everyone progresses differently. Once all components of DBT have been successfully completed, it’s important that individuals continue to work on the skills they’ve learned in therapy, taking care to apply them to multiple areas of their lives. DBT can bring significant change to people’s lives, including benefits such as improved mental well-being, better emotional regulation, healthier relationships, more happiness, and a higher quality of life. 

Campaign Wall

Join the Conversation

Sign in with your Facebook account or