DBT is a treatment approach originally developed for individuals experiencing intense emotional reactions and extreme feelings of distress. It is now used with clients presenting with a variety of personal and interpersonal challenges.
DBT is considered a third wave behavioural therapy approach. However, unlike CBT, it does not focus on challenging unhelpful thoughts or behaviours. Instead, people engaging with this approach are often provided skills to learn about the dialectic of a situation. This means that we learn that our experiences, emotions and behaviours are valid (i.e., acceptance). However, it also means that there are also aspects that we might want to change about ourselves and the way in which we approach things.
There are different sets of core skills in DBT. These include mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness. Mindfulness invites individuals to learn skills to build present-moment awareness and be aware of their own thoughts, feelings and behaviours as they are occurring without judging, labelling them or trying to control them. Distress tolerance involves learning skills to better cope with intense situations as they arise. This can be especially helpful when these situations cannot be altered.
Emotion regulation skills allow individuals to learn ways to better manage emotions so that they do not take hold of our thoughts and behaviours during important moments that mean a lot to us. Finally, interpersonal effectiveness skills allow people to learn ways to validate the needs of others as well as to communicate more effectively. This allows people to acknowledge and address one’s own needs, and set important boundaries within the context of their relationships, while improving and maintaining one’s sense of self-respect throughout the process.
In DBT, we also talk about concepts of “radical acceptance” to acknowledge that difficult situations do happen in our lives. We want to find ways to accept them, even if we do not agree with them or enjoy the fact that they have occurred. This is a powerful concept and is an important part of DBT and can be integrated within other therapy approaches as well.
Marsha M. Linehan
At FTPS, many associates offer DBT-informed approaches as well as DBT skills integration within our treatment approaches. We also run occasional DBT skills groups for individuals presenting with a variety of different issues.