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The Facts on Treating Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder with DBT

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways:

  • There are a variety of treatments for bipolar disorder.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a relatively new treatment for BPD.
  • It is a type of cognitive behavior therapy.
  • DBT addresses dangerous negative behaviors and thought patterns.

There is some good news for the bipolar and borderline personality disorder (BPD) communities. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can help, even if you’ve tried other modes of treatment. 

People living with these disorders experience extreme mood swings and trouble regulating emotions. They also face myriad cognitive, behavioral, and psychological symptoms. 

These disorders are often confused or used interchangeably, as their symptoms and presentation are very similar. The primary distinction is that BPD is a personality disorder, whereas bipolar is a mood disorder. It’s important to note, then, that some people may live with both of these disorders simultaneously.

The good news is that, although there is no cure, there are many treatment options available. Medication, cognitive therapies, and self-help strategies, such as limiting stress and getting enough sleep, are effective ways to manage the symptoms for many patients. 

There are times when nothing seems to work, however. This can cause depression, anxiety, and other issues that worsen the symptoms. Many patients give up at this point, but DBT can help. 

This article explores the fundamentals of DBT, how it can help with bipolar disorder, and some of the most valuable benefits of DBT for people living with BPD

Find out what you need to know about using DBT for BPD and bipolar disorder. 

Fundamentals of DBT 

DBT is a very comprehensive form of cognitive behavioral therapy. Dr. Marsha Linehan created it in the mid-1970s to treat borderline personality disorder patients with chronic suicidal thoughts by managing and redirecting negative thought patterns. 

It has proven helpful in treating other mental issues through trial and error and testing in the ensuing decades.

Treating Bipolar and BPD with DBT 

DBT employs four core techniques that help ease symptoms of bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. Multiple approaches can be used with each one to cater to the different areas of the patient’s life. 


Mindfulness is the basis of DBT. It teaches patients to recognize their emotions and appropriately label them. It also helps strengthen the focus on the present moment. 

Borderline personality and bipolar disorder patients gain self-control when aware of their thoughts and employ emotional regulation skills. DBT gives them an effective strategy to cope with hard-to-manage emotions.

Distress Tolerance

Destructive impulsive urges often happen during episodes. Distress tolerance teaches patients the best way to deal with them. The urge to self-harm, use drugs, get drunk, or gamble is typically present during a manic episode and can be overwhelming. 

Distraction techniques, radical acceptance, and self-soothing help draw the focus away from those urges, but they also address behavior stemming from the incapability to cope with powerful emotions. It shows people how to identify triggers of self-harm and suicide. 

Emotional Regulation

Bipolar and borderline personality disorder patients characteristically experience emotional dysregulation – overwhelming negative feelings and emotional responses. DBT teaches how to correctly identify and label emotions and their functions and reduce vulnerability to negativity. 

Learning to act appropriately and not give in to emotional urges is a big help when coping with manic episodes of bipolar disorder.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

People living with bipolar disorder often have damaged relationships due to unmanaged symptoms. Interpersonal skills help improve relationships. 

Symptoms usually manifest as irritability, anger, or impulsivity when uncontrolled. These issues typically result in substance abuse, gambling, overspending, or marital affairs. 

Learning how to deal with other people is a massive part of DBT. Patients learn to improve their listening, reactionary, and relational skills, so talking with loved ones, coworkers, and total strangers is easier.

These basic tenets of DBT build on each other as therapy progresses. Learning to cope with distressing thoughts and tolerate negativity helps patients regulate their emotions and maintain better relationships, for instance.

Benefits of DBT for Bipolar and Borderline Personality Patients

Using DBT to treat bipolar and borderline personality disorder has many benefits in addition to relief from symptoms. Here are a few that people are most surprised by:

Increases Self-Confidence

A feeling of immense pleasure seeps through your soul when you know your hard work is coming to fruition. It isn’t easy to live with these disorders. Healing and learning to live with it take a lot of hard work, even with DBT as a resource.

Life Appreciation

The mindfulness teachings of DBT help slow life long enough to get a good look at what’s happening around you. Living in the moment means paying attention to now, not the past or future, making it much easier to appreciate life in all its splendor.

Peace of Mind

You no longer have to worry so much about emotional outbursts and manic episodes when you learn to recognize the triggers and how to cope with negative emotions and distress. Life is much easier when those things aren’t waiting around every corner to ambush you. 


DBT is often most helpful in a group setting. Patients learn they are not alone and that others can provide valuable insight into healing. Group therapy can also help improve interpersonal skills.

There might be even more significant advantages to using this therapy for bipolar and BPD. It all depends on the patient’s circumstances.

Living with these disorders can be frightening, but there are many options for treatment that can significantly improve life. Everyone is different, so no treatment is 100% effective for everyone. 

DBT is a viable option for people who feel like they’ve tried everything, or even if they’re just starting their bipolar diagnosis journey. It helps many people feel better, and it can help you too.  

Get More Information on DBT and How It Can Help BPD Patients

Finding the proper treatment for a bipolar or borderline personality disorder diagnosis may be easier than you think. The Counseling Center Group can help you learn how to control your emotions and change your behaviors. We provide therapies for groups, couples, individuals, and families. 

The Counseling Center Group is dedicated to helping you live a life you never knew was possible. We are committed to providing relatively short-term treatments to achieve positive, long-lasting results. 

Our therapists use structured, evidence-based methods to help you reach realistic goals efficiently. Contact us today to learn more about treatment with us. 

FAQs about Treating Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder with DBT

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a comprehensive form of cognitive behavioral therapy developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan in the mid-1970s. It was initially designed to treat borderline personality disorder patients with chronic suicidal thoughts, but it has proven helpful in treating other mental health issues as well.

DBT employs four core techniques: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.

These techniques help ease symptoms of bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder by teaching patients how to recognize and manage their emotions, cope with distressing thoughts, regulate their emotions, and improve their interpersonal skills.

The basis of DBT is mindfulness, which teaches patients to recognize their emotions and label them appropriately. It also helps them focus on the present moment, which can improve self-control and coping with hard-to-manage emotions.

DBT teaches patients to correctly identify and label their emotions and their functions. By reducing vulnerability to negativity and learning to act appropriately without giving in to emotional urges, DBT helps in coping with emotional dysregulation, a common feature of bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder.

DBT teaches patients distress tolerance techniques, such as distraction, radical acceptance, and self-soothing. These techniques help patients deal with destructive impulsive urges that may arise during manic episodes or difficult emotional situations.

Yes, DBT can improve interpersonal relationships for individuals with Bipolar Disorder. The therapy helps patients develop better listening, relational, and reaction skills, making communication with loved ones, coworkers, and others easier.

Some benefits of using DBT for these patients include increased self-confidence, a deeper appreciation for life, peace of mind from better coping with negative emotions, and a sense of camaraderie from participating in group therapy.

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