DBT 101: Dialectical Behavior Therapy Basics – What is It? How Does It Work?

DBT 101: Dialectical Behavior Therapy Basics – What is It? How Does It Work?When you’ve been troubled by the same problems for years and previous therapy hasn’t been very helpful, don’t give up hope. It might just be time to consider a new form of therapy. Dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, is a form of therapy developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan. If you’re not familiar with dialectical behavior therapy and you haven’t yet seen benefits from counseling, it’s worth exploring. Here are the basics about this treatment.

DBT 101: What is DBT?

Dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, is a form of comprehensive cognitive behavioral therapy. It was originally developed to treat patients with chronic suicidal thoughts, particularly as a part of borderline personality disorder. The suicidal thoughts occurred less frequently when patients learned how to manage and redirect their thought patterns. Therapists have been using DBT with their patients since the 1970s, even here in Houston.

We know today that the techniques of DBT can be very beneficial for many people, especially those who haven’t responded well to therapy or medication. DBT can be helpful for people who struggle with a variety of issues, including eating disorders, issues with self-harm, addiction, and post-traumatic stress.

Interested in how DBT therapy can help you? Join our next DBT skills group starting in September. 

DBT 101: What are the Basic Skills of DBT?

DBT teaches four main skills to help people manage their thoughts. These skills include the following:

  • Mindfulness, which is the practice of staying focused on the present moment. Many people with chronic depression or unstable moods worry about things in the past or future. Mindfulness trains your brain to stay in the here and now.
  • Distress tolerance, which is a skill that can help people remain calmer in difficult situations. This teaches you to learn to tolerate mildly to moderately unpleasant experiences.
  • Interpersonal effectiveness, which enables to you to ask for the things you want, while also saying no to things you don’t want. DBT teaches you how to advocate for your own likes and dislikes in a way that creates respect for yourself as well as for others.
  • Emotion regulation, which can be a challenge for people who feel like they’re at the mercy of life’s whims. Emotion regulation teaches you how to change emotions that you want to change, like angry outbursts or crying in response to minor frustrations.

DBT 101: What Do You Do with Those Skills?

Once you have learned the basic skills of DBT, that’s when the therapist teaches you how to put them into effective use. The skills in DBT are divided into two categories: acceptance (mindfulness and distress tolerance) and change (interpersonal effectiveness and emotion regulation.) The goal of DBT is to find a healthy balance of these four components so you learn how to weather the storms of life with more ease.

Most people who pursue DBT have more than one problem they need to address. A therapist, like Alexandra in our practice, will help you put together the skills you learned in DBT. You will learn how to apply the skills in situations like relationship conflict, creating a structured environment, and gaining motivation to set and pursue goals.

DBT 101: Stages of DBT

There’s a lot more to the process than just learning the basic skills of DBT. Generally, most DBT therapists follow a series of steps that may include the following:

  • Stage 1: Many patients begin therapy in a state of crisis, so it’s first important to help them get stabilized and to establish an atmosphere of safety and calm. This begins with teaching patients how to gain some control over their emotions in the short term.
  • Stage 2: Most patients have more stable behavior in this stage, but emotional reactions can still cause occasional trouble. The therapist helps the patient to safely explore the causes of emotional pain instead of burying it.
  • Stage 3: This stage focuses on maintenance of healthy behavior and reasonable goal-setting. In this phase, you focus on pursuing happiness and stability.
  • Stage 4: In this phase, you focus more on big-picture goals. You determine the goals you want to achieve and make plans to go after them. The focus is not only on maintaining happiness and stability but also on pursuing spiritual fulfillment.

Life in Houston has so much to offer. Set yourself free from the things that have troubled you in the past so that you can be free to enjoy life. Consider the possibilities of DBT.

Join our next DBT skills group starting in September. Call us to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.

Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP on Twitter
Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP
Rachel’s passion is to help people discover their personal gifts and strengths to achieve self-acceptance, create a healthy relationship with food, mind and body, and find meaning and fulfillment in work and life roles. She helps people create nurturance and healing from within to restore balance and enoughness and overcome binge eating, emotional eating, anxiety, depression and lack of career fulfillment.

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