Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) was originally developed by psychologist Marsha Linehan in the late 1980s as an option for treating people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) who were severely suicidal.
It’s a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that has brought effective treatment and healing to many people with borderline personality disorder who were previously thought of as untreatable. It is now also being used to treat a variety of other mental health disorders.
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Symptoms That Can Be Relieved by DBT
DBT is still used as the most effective treatment for borderline personality disorder. It can also be helpful to relieve symptoms of other disorders that include any the following:
- Suicide attempts
- Difficulties managing intense emotions
- Experiences of crisis
Disorders other than DBT sometimes respond to this approach to treatment, which helps people understand and manage overwhelming emotions and reduce emotional instability or impulsiveness. DBT can also improve a person’s ability to engage with others effectively.
How Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Works
The term “dialectical” refers to the idea that two opposing ideas can be true at the same time. Using this approach to therapy, there is always more than one way to approach a situation. The therapist works with seemingly opposing strategies, which are to accept the person exactly the way he or she is and at the same time work toward change.
In some ways, DBT is similar to standard talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but it adds a focus on validation or acceptance along with efforts to change. The therapist works to balance out acceptance and change while working with the client to achieve a life worth living.
New skills are gradually taught to help the client become effective in his or her daily life. Skills include mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotional regulation and distress tolerance.
Why DBT is Effective in Treating Borderline Personality Disorder
DBT works best on people who have complex mental health disorders that are difficult to treat. It’s effective in treating borderline personality disorder because it has a proactive, problem-solving approach that teaches the skills needed to control intense emotions, improve relationships, manage distress and reduce self-destructive behavior.
The skills needed for effective treatment of BPD take time to learn, and the different components of therapy, including individual therapy, group therapy and phone calls, are provided over the course of a year or more.
Other Disorders That May Be Treated with DBT
Skills learned through DBT are sometimes effective in treating other forms of mental illness or emotional challenges. One of the skills used is mindfulness, which helps a person focus on the present moment, improve well-being and decrease negative emotions.
Mindfulness practice and some of the other skills used in DBT may be helpful in treating:
- Depression – DBT can help depressed people recognize how to take charge of their lives and what they might be able to do to feel better.
- Anxiety – DBT teaches the skills needed to tolerate emotional intensity and modify behaviors in order to reduce intense emotions.
- Bipolar Disorder – Like people with anxiety, those with bipolar disorder can benefit from learning to tolerate the emotions that accompany mood swings as well as making behavior changes needed to reduce emotional reactions.
- Addiction and Eating Disorders – Addiction to alcohol, sex, shopping, gambling and food are sometimes ways to manage painful and overwhelming feelings, so the skills that are used in DBT are sometimes beneficial in regulating these intense emotions.
For the treatment of different mental and emotional disorders, doctors or mental health professionals can guide each person to the form of therapy that is likely to be most effective in their individual case. DBT has been a groundbreaking approach to the treatment of BPD and has been found to be useful for other mental health challenges as well.