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The Secrets of Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Its Phenomenal Success Rate

Key Takeaways:

  • DBT is a talk therapy designed to help with intense emotional experiences
  • This type of therapy is held one-on-one and in groups
  • DBT is so successful because it speaks directly to harmful behavior and its triggers

Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, is a type of psychotherapy (sometimes called talk therapy) that treats mental health issues. This therapy technique was first developed to treat people with borderline personality disorder but is also highly successful with several other types of mental illnesses. 

American psychologist Marsha Linehan developed DBT to treat suicidal women. She gathered all the science-backed evidence showing talk therapy techniques that did the best for women with multifaceted problems and suicidal tendencies. 

People who experience intense emotions and cannot cope in a healthy manner are the best candidates for this type of therapy. It uses 4 key principles that directly address intense emotions and methods of dealing with them. This guide explains DBT, what a session is like, and why it’s so successful.

The Fundamentals of DBT Therapy

Severe trauma in life can cause deep scars on a person’s psyche. People aren’t even aware they have these psychological scars in many instances. They are confused by their own feelings and reactions and feel powerless to do anything about it. 

Powerful personality disorders develop to help deal with traumatic memories and scarred reactions, but they just cause more problems. That’s where therapy comes in, and DBT specifically deals with extreme emotions.

A Typical DBT Session Explained

DBT sessions are held privately, in groups, or remotely by phone or Internet. Therapists help patients work through the four skill modules at their own pace. The goal is to learn acceptance of self, and the personal challenges faced, along with an understanding of how vital change is. A typical session includes:

Weekly One-on-One Sessions

Patients of DBT have a once-per-week session alone with their therapist lasting 45 minutes to an hour. The therapist will introduce concepts of self-acceptance and modalities for changing destructive behavior. The patient will discuss the homework they’ve done throughout the week and any progress or setbacks that happened.

Group Sessions

Therapists use group sessions to teach the skills needed to cope with everyday life. Group sessions might include role play and other class exercises. Patients go over their wins and struggles of the week and are comforted to hear others face similar situations.

Emergency Sessions

Crises can occur anytime, but they happen often in the first few months of DBT. It’s a new experience, and people can feel overwhelmed when coping techniques don’t work perfectly every time. DBT therapists typically allow short, sporadic calls or video visits during certain hours to help alleviate the distress of emergency emotional outbursts. 

DBT isn’t as frightening as those new to the therapy may think. Sessions more closely resemble a class than clinical therapy. Taking the first step is the hardest, but patients quickly become accustomed to the laid-back atmosphere. 

The Reason DBT Is So Successful

The skills taught in DBT are things most people learn in childhood, but when trauma occurs, it can alter a person’s life lessons. Skill deficits are ground zero for many mental illnesses. DBT reteaches these critical lessons in a manner that breeds acceptance of who the patient is now and the journey they need to make to feel better. Other therapies deal with these same issues, but DBT specifically addresses severe trauma and highly unhealthy coping mechanisms. These skills are taught in four modules:

1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness in DBT means being aware of what is happening to you and not defaulting to an unhealthy coping strategy. It emphasizes being fully present and not ruminating over what happened in the past or may happen in the future.

2. Distress Tolerance

Learning distress tolerance means learning that you don’t have to have an extreme reaction every time something stressful happens. It means understanding that stressful things happen daily, and you can easily live with them when you employ your coping skills.

3. Interpersonal Effectiveness

Interpersonal effectiveness is about how you work with others. It’s learning how to speak to others and express what you need without getting emotional, even when they mistreat you. It’s also about setting boundaries and knowing it’s okay to say no.

4. Emotion Regulation

Therapists teach patients to regulate their emotions in DBT. It includes learning to understand the emotions you’re having and being able to control them. 

DBT works better than other mental health therapies for some people because it is extremely organized. The methodology for treatment is based on the gravity of the patient’s distress. Mental health professionals plan a treatment program based on the patient’s status and where they fit in the stages of treatment.

Related Risks and Side Effects

There are a few side effects to using DBT. It requires a significant time commitment, during which patients experience varying emotions and realizations. Side effects don’t typically last long but can be recurring. They include:

  • Fatigue
  • Flashbacks
  • Depression
  • Overpowering emotions
  • Agitation
  • Anticipatory anxiety

Therapists help patients deal with these side effects during therapy. Most are byproducts of the therapy and subside as the initial issues are resolved.

DBT therapy is now used to treat more than borderline personality disorder. Its benefits are applied to many other mental illnesses and successfully stop self-harming behaviors and suicidal ideation. It’s a safe and effective way to help patients develop an understanding that they have a rich life worth living.

DBT Helps People Design a Life They Love

Fighting through life’s traumas isn’t easy. DBT is a valuable tool that brings powerful results. The Counseling Center Group offers in-depth therapies for anyone who doesn’t feel as connected to life as they’d like. From eating and sleep disorders to addictions, anxiety, and relationship problems, there is a modality of therapy that can help you feel better in both group and individual sessions. Give us a call today to see how we can help you. 


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