Curious About Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)? Here’s What You Need to Know

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After suffering from debilitating panic attacks, Selena Gomez’s bravely revealed in a Vogue interview her profound belief in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). She states, “DBT has completely changed my life, I wish more people would talk about therapy.” Lady Gaga, a huge mental health advocate, also opened up about her issues with PTSD and self-harm (cutting) and told Oprah Winfrey during a recent interview, “I think that DBT is a wonderful, wonderful way to deal with mental health issues. It’s a really strong way of learning how to live, and it’s a guide to understanding your emotions.” 

As more celebrities come forward about disorders such as anxiety or PTSD and discuss treatments like DBT to combat their issues, the stigma surrounding mental health disorders continues to diminish. This brutal honesty can also save lives. But what is DBT and how is it helpful? According to the Mayo Clinic, “DBT, a form of cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy, uses a skills-based approach to teach you how to manage your emotions, tolerate distress, and improve relationships.” Though this modality was originally used to treat borderline personality disorder, it is now widely used to treat individuals experiencing eating disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and substance use disorders. Below, we discuss the history behind DBT, the basis for the treatment, and how this therapy may be right for you during addiction recovery. 

A Little History Behind DBT

Dialectical Behavior Therapy evolved from Dr. Marsha M. Linehan’s work to create a treatment for suicidal women dealing with a borderline personality disorder. “Linehan investigated treatments for other disorders, such as anxiety and depression, and assembled a package of evidence-based, cognitive-behavioral interventions that directly targeted suicidal behavior (US Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, NIH).” However, what Linehan found troubled her. The treatments were mainly focused on “changing cognitions and behaviors that many patients felt criticized, misunderstood, and invalidated, and consequently dropped out of treatment altogether.” This finding motivated Linehan to experiment with further treatment development. The result included interventions “designed to convey acceptance of the patient and to help the patient accept herself, her emotions, thoughts, the world, and others (NIH).” And DBT was born.

What is the “D” in DBT?

According to the Behavioral Research and Therapy Clinics (BRTC) at the University of Washington, “The term ‘dialectical’ means a synthesis or integration of opposites. The primary dialectic within DBT is between the seemingly opposite strategies of acceptance and change.” A therapist specializing in this treatment modality accepts clients as they are while also recognizing that they need to change to reach their goals. DBT can be taught in a group format, individually, or even by phone, with each session designed to teach behavioral skills that patients can apply in their everyday lives. This therapy puts the focus on decreasing conflict in relationships, improving mindfulness, and developing the right tools to deal with emotional highs and lows. It helps patients stabilize themselves and develop life-long skills to deal with painful emotions. 

What Behaviors Can DBT Target?

The BRTC states that patients who receive DBT typically have multiple problems that require help. The modality uses a hierarchy of treatment targets to help determine the order the issues need to be addressed. They include: 

  • Life-threatening behaviors including suicidal ideation, suicidal communications, and all forms of suicidal and non-suicidal self-injury.
  • Behaviors that interfere with therapy, such as being late to sessions or canceling appointments. 
  • Quality of life behaviors that interferes with the patient’s daily life, such as financial issues, other disorders, or relationship problems.
  • Skills acquisition where clients learn new skillful behaviors to replace ineffective ones.

The Four Skill Modules

The four modules in DBT involves two acceptance-oriented skills and two change-oriented skills. These four skills are taught by our professional staff at Silver Lining Recovery and include:

  • Zen Mindfulness: the practice of being fully aware and present in the NOW.
  • Distress and Anxiety Tolerance: how to tolerate pain and accept challenging situations, and not change them.
  • Efficacy of Interpersonal Communication: helps individuals to become assertive in all relationships while maintaining self-respect and positive relationships with others. Learning to say no is an integral part of this process.
  • Emotion Regulation: learning how to decrease vulnerability to painful emotions and change emotions that you want to change.

Is DBT Right for Me?

There is hope through change, and dialectical strategies keep the therapy during addiction treatment in balance while helping clients reach their goals as quickly as possible. At Silver Lining Recovery, we realize that any treatment modality is a very personal choice, respect your decisions, and are always available to discuss our therapy options. If DBT is not right for you, we have several other therapies available such as EMDR and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to assist you on your road to recovery. 

With the help of our compassionate, professionally trained staff, with more than 30 years of experience combined, we can customize an addiction treatment plan designed for your unique needs, especially for those dealing with co-occurring disorders such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. If you or a loved one is ready to enter an addiction program, call us at Silver Lining Recovery (866) 448-4563. We are here to support you because we understand the first step to recovery requires courage.