Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that integrates mindfulness techniques. Together, these methods can help people make positive behavioral changes in their lives. However, DBT differs from CBT in a significant way. Where CBT focuses on changing thoughts and behaviors, DBT is more concerned with self-validation.
A set of four DBT skills provides the tools needed for someone to make lasting changes in their life. DBT, like CBT, is a versatile therapy that is helpful for treating mental health disorders, such as bipolar disorder, PTSD, depression, borderline personality disorder, and eating disorders. For individuals with a substance use disorder, DBT skills have been shown to be quite effective for improving life in recovery.
What is DBT?
Dr. Marsha M. Linehan developed DBT in the 1970s as a tool for individuals struggling with borderline personality disorder, as well as those who were chronically suicidal. Since then, the use of DBT has expanded significantly and now is widely used in the treatment of substance use disorders.
The DBT system follows a four-step therapeutic process during which four skills are taught. These skills include:
- Distress Tolerance. Distress tolerance skills help a person in recovery learn how to better manage their response to a stressful life event. In the past, the response to a distressing situation had involved substance use as a means of coping with the situation. DBT teaches new skills that can help the person better tolerate distress, and show them how to access healthy coping techniques.
- Emotion Regulation. When we allow our emotions to control our actions, it can have negative results. Learning how to regulate emotions that might otherwise be overwhelming is an essential skill in recovery.
- Mindfulness. Mindfulness involves reining in distracting thoughts, such as worrying about past events or what might occur in the future, and instead focus on the present experience. Mindfulness teaches someone to become fully immersed in the moment, but without judgment.
- Interpersonal Effectiveness. The quality of our relationships rests heavily on how we interact with others. DBT helps the individual improve their interpersonal skills by acquiring more effective communication skills and conflict resolution techniques.
The Four Stages of DBT
DBT occurs through a series of four stages. At the outset of therapy, the individual will work with the DBT therapist to establish benchmarks, or a set of goals they hope to reach as they move through the stages. The four stages of DBT include:
- Stage One. During this stage, the individual acknowledges the chaos in their lives due to the substance use disorder. They identify their dysfunctional behaviors and make a plan for achieving stability over the course of treatment.
- Stage Two. Individuals begin to better manage their behaviors but still need to learn to control emotional stress and their responses to it. This stage focuses on emotion regulation.
- Stage Three. This stage is focused on improving self-confidence, improving relationships, and setting new life goals.
- Stage Four. The fourth stage guides individuals toward accepting themselves as connected and complete persons, and to then look forward with a positive mindset.
Benefits of DBT
DBT is a well-suited therapeutic modality for helping individuals in recovery. The four DBT skills are relevant and actionable for people who struggle with a substance use disorder. Some of the benefits of DBT in recovery include:
- Encourages the individual to set goals for themselves
- Helps them to cultivate healthier relationships
- Keeps the focus on recovery and improving functioning
- Guides the person to gain more control over their emotions
- Helps the individual make positive changes to things they have control over
DBT is one of the most commonly utilized psychotherapies in the treatment of substance use disorders. DBT is effective because it provides useful recovery tools to help individuals improve important aspects of their lives.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.