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Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based model of therapy that helps people learn and use new skills and strategies so that they build lives they feel are worth living.
Dialectical means "the existence of opposites." In DBT, people are taught two seemingly opposite strategies: acceptance (i.e., that their experiences and behaviours are valid), and change (i.e., that they have to make positive changes to manage emotions and move forward).
DBT is divided into four stages of treatment. The stages are defined by how severe a person’s behaviours are.
A standard DBT program requires a one-year commitment. Shorter programs, sometimes called “DBT-informed programs,” use some methods or structure of DBT and can be very helpful for certain people.
A standard DBT program usually has five components, each serving a specific function:
The goal of all of these elements is to help the person build a life they feel is worth living.
This is intended for individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder who have a therapist in the community whom they see at least bi-weekly.
Individuals in this program will attend a weekly DBT Skills training group that is facilitated by a skills therapist in a group format similar to a class. Exercises are provided for people to practice skills between sessions. The purpose is to help people introduce effective and practical skills into their lives, which they can use when they are distressed. These skills are meant to replace other unhealthy and negative behaviours. The class usually meets once per week for 2 hours. It takes 24 weeks to get through the full skills curriculum. In the class, four skills are taught:
DBT was developed for people with borderline personality disorder. But it can help people with other mental health problems, including suicidal behaviour, self-harm, substance use, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and eating disorders.
How is DBT different than cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)?
Both DBT and CBT are forms of psychotherapy. In these therapies, a person talks to a mental health professional about their challenges and learns skills to help them cope. However, CBT primarily focuses on learning ways to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. DBT teaches people to accept their thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and the techniques to change them. Not only are personal skills taught in DBT, but skills for interpersonal relationships are also emphasized.
DBT is based on CBT, but it focuses more on the emotional and social aspects of living. In fact, DBT was created to help people manage their intense emotions.
What is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)? © 2017 Behavioral Tech
What’s the difference between CBT and DBT? © 2015 Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division
Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) © 2017 Mind
Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) © 2017 SANE Australia
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