Dialectical Behaviour Therapy

What is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy?

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is a form of talking therapy which helps people who experience emotions very intensely, and who may be engaging in some risky behaviours. It was designed particularly to help with individuals experiencing borderline personality disorder.

A key aspect of DBT is acceptance. Sometimes, people who experience intense or upsetting emotions can feel guilty and worthless for having these emotions. This can result in the person falling into a vicious cycle of experiencing more and more upsetting emotions. As a result, that person may turn to self-harm to cope. DBT focuses on helping you accept your emotions and who you are as a person.

Another key aspect of DBT is positive change. DBT will help you to identify behaviours that are harmful to yourself or others. You will then work out alternative strategies for coping with upsetting emotions.

Fast Facts!

DBT was initially developed by an American Psychologist named Marsha Linehan.

People often fall into the trap of thinking that things are 100% true (or good) or 100% false (or bad). This can be referred to as “black and white” thinking. The “dialectical” part of dialectical behaviour therapy refers to a way of thinking that is the opposite of “black and white” thinking.

How is it treated?

When is it used?

DBT is most commonly used to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD). It was particularly designed to help with some of the symptoms and problems associated with BPD. For example:

  • self-harming
  • suicidal behaviours
  • using alcohol and drugs to control emotions
  • eating problems
  • unstable relationships

DBT has proved most effective in treating women with BPD who have a history of self-harm and suicidal behaviour. It is recommended by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as the first line of treatment for this group of people.

Asides from BPD, DBT can be used to help treat binge eating disorders. It has also been used to help reduce self-harm behaviours in those with a variety of other mental health disorders.

What does it involve?

DBT usually involves weekly group and individual sessions. In the individual sessions, you and a therapist will talk together and discuss which goals you would like to work towards. The group sessions will help you develop skills to help cope with intense emotions. For example, you will be taught mindfulness techniques and strategies to tolerate distress. You also may receive an out of hours telephone number in case you need help in a crisis.

It is important to think of DBT as a form of team-work. To get the best results you have to work with the therapist, trying your best to practice techniques and to do homework exercises such as diary cards.

Want to know more?

Useful resources

NHS Choices – Borderline Personality Disorder Treatment http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Borderline-personality-disorder/Pages/Treatment.aspx

Mind – Dialectical Behaviour Therapy http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/dialectical-behaviour-therapy-dbt/what-is-dbt/#.V40a7vkrLIU

UCCSF – What is DBT for adolescents? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Stz–d17ID4