Word of the Week: DBT

DBT (or Dialectical Behavior Therapy) was created in the late 1980’s as a psychotherapy mostly to treat borderline personality disorder. Today, it’s used largely to help people with a variety of mental conditions to cope with their feelings and develop life skills/strategies to make living meaningful. I teach DBT every so often in groups to expose patients to the concept and hopefully look for it in outpatient treatment after discharge! DBT is well-known for using acronyms as a reminder to practice the skills that it teaches.


Dialectical Behavior Therapy = “cognitive behavioral treatment developed to emphasize individual psychotherapy and group skills training classes to help people learn and use new skills and strategies to develop a life that they experience as worth living. DBT skills include skills for mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness.”


Stages of Treatment in DBT

The goal is for you to reach stage 4 by the end of DBT treatment. Most people start at stage 1 and work up the ladder.

Stage 1: behaviors are out of control and feelings are hopeless/helpless. You bay be DBT-Infographicexperiencing suicidal thoughts or abusing drugs heavily.

Stage 2: feelings of desperation are common. Behaviors are under control, but depressive thoughts are still there – often due to trauma or invalidation in the past.

Stage 3: learn to live by defining life goals, building self-respect, and find happiness. This is the challenge.

Stage 4: find deeper meaning with a more ‘spiritual’ connection to existence. (NOTE: This does not have to be religious.) Finding joy and freedom in the things you enjoy to connect you to a purpose.

The Four Modules of Skills Training 

DBT is centered around these four categories of skills – focuses on using unique activities, worksheets, and discussions to dive deeper into conquering these skills.

  1. Mindfulness – being fully aware and present in the current moment.
  2. Distress tolerance – how to tolerate pain in difficult situations rather than try to change it.
  3. Interpersonal effectiveness – how to make your needs clear and not feel guilty while maintaining healthy relationships and self-respect.
  4. Emotion regulation – how to change and control emotions that you want to.

Apps to Help Aid DBT Practice

Search these apps in the app store to have practice tips and reminders right on your phone!

  • DBT DiaryCard and Skills Coach
  • DBT Trivia and Quiz
  • Buddhify

DBT Workbooks

There are several quality workbooks to practice DBT on your own. I recommend this if you want to get your ‘feet wet’ with it before attending groups or classes if that makes you nervous. Here are some of my favorite workbooks! Note that there are DBT books that are specific to what you are struggling with, such as eating disorder, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, depression, etc.

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