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DBT – How Does It Work, And Can It Really Change My Life?

DBT is helping people with severe trauma live healthy, happy lives, and it can help you too.

Key Takeaways:

  • DBT is a talk therapy designed to help people with harmful behaviors and thought patterns live healthier lives.
  • Problem-solving, regulating emotions, and developing coping skills are some of the skills practiced in DBT.
  • Patients master four stages of DBT to gain better control over their emotions and destructive behaviors.
  • The four stages of treatment include mindfulness, distress tolerance; emotion regulation; interpersonal effectiveness which help teach skills for problem solving regulating emotions & abilities useful in everyday life.

DBT, or dialectical behavior therapy, is a way to treat mental disorders that’s proving to be life-altering for people living with anything from eating disorders to PTSD. 

Medication, hospitalization, and talk therapy are all ways to treat mental disorders, depending on the type and gravity of the symptoms, but some of the most life-changing methods are the talk therapies that help develop good behavior, thought patterns, and coping skills. 

DBT treats mental issues such as PTSD, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, OCD, and depression. This article goes over the basics of DBT, some common misconceptions, who should use it, and why it’s so life-changing.

Basics of DBT

DBT is a type of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, that was created to treat borderline personality disorder. Researchers quickly saw how successfully it treats other emotional issues and applied its techniques in other situations. DBT teaches skills for problem-solving, regulating emotions, and abilities useful in everyday life to people who missed out on learning those skills due to trauma.

DBT aims to identify thinking patterns and automatic reactions that don’t work anymore and correct them using acceptance and change. The theory is that using acceptance and change together works better to solve a problem than using one tactic alone. 

This highly successful technique isn’t without negative assumptions, however. There are a few myths about DBT, including:

  • People who need it are insane.
  • You have to be admitted to a hospital to get DBT.
  • Only people with PTSD or BPD benefit from it.
  • You must take drugs or some narcotic medication.

The truth is that anyone living with a mental illness can benefit from DBT. Patients may or may not need medicine. Each case is different, but DBT is safe and effective. That’s enough reason for many patients to give it a try. 

Who Can Benefit From DBT?

DBT successfully treats numerous mental illnesses, although it was created to treat borderline personality disorder alone. People living with the following mental disorders are the best candidates for DBT:

Treating Depression with DBT

Depression can be so severe that people can’t get out of bed or perform everyday activities. It is a mental disorder brought on by various circumstances that cause a decline in mood so steep that it interferes with daily life. 


Some people cut or burn themselves to release inner pain from abuse or harmful self-assessments. This action is termed self-harm. It can also include punching a wall or cutting or hitting yourself. 

Treating PTSD with DBT

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental disorder caused by experiencing or witnessing an extremely traumatic or violent event. Symptoms occur without warning and include flashbacks of the event, recurring thoughts, intense anxiety, and nightmares. 

Treating Eating Disorders with DBT

Eating disorders are defined as any activity that disrupts standard eating patterns. Subjects fixate on food, portions, and the size and shape of their bodies. They may exhibit various symptoms, such as food binges, restriction, and purging behaviors like vomiting.

Suicidal Ideation

Experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideas is called suicidal ideation. It doesn’t mean you are planning to kill yourself – you may just experience general thoughts on the subject without a strategy to carry them out. They may be thoughts on what your family would do or what would happen at work.

DBT is generally combined with other forms of psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR), when treating these types of mental disorders. 

How Effective is DBT?

DBT has been widely researched and found to be vital in treating emotional and mental disorders. DBT has been studied since 1991. Research shows it significantly improved the mental state of consistently suicidal women with borderline personality disorder who self-harmed, a previously deemed untreatable clinical population.

Experts believe it’s the four stages of treatment that make DBT so successful. 

  1. Mindfulness. Learning to be mindful when toxic emotions show up is crucial to healing. It isn’t easy to stop these intense feelings, especially in the first few tries, but recognizing they occur is an important step.
  2. Distress tolerance. Emotional pain remains long after you’re conscious of destructive behavior. Just because you recognize the bad choices doesn’t mean your brain knows how to rectify them. Another crucial step of DBT is learning to get through stressful situations without coming unglued.
  3. Emotion regulation. Learning how to control and adjust swiftly changing emotions is a helpful skill taught in DBT. It’s best tackled after mindfulness and distress tolerance are mastered. 
  4. Interpersonal effectiveness. Part of DBT is learning how to interact with other people. This means family, friends, the bank teller, and the grocery store cashier. Learning skills that help you communicate is critical to healing. This skill fortifies your relationships with others but also enhances your self-respect. 

DBT has been shown to work better than other treatments for some people because it is highly structured. Patients wholly master each stage before tackling another to get the greatest chance at success. 

DBT is uniquely effective and impactful. It helps people take their lives from uncontrollable emotions to spotting and controlling undesirable behaviors before they get a foothold. DBT uses easy homework assignments, such as emotion tracking and behavior adaptations, to help teach its techniques. The only requirements are dedication and a desire to change your life.

How Effective is DBT for Borderline Personality Disorder?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) has been studied extensively for its effectiveness in treating symptoms of borderline personality disorder. A recent systematic review found that DBT was effective in reducing the severity of symptoms and improving overall functioning for BPD patients when compared to non-specific treatments, supportive psychotherapy, and other forms of cognitive-behavioral therapy. The research suggests that DBT works by helping individuals to gain insight into their behavior, learn skills for regulating their emotions and interpersonal relationships, acquire distress tolerance, and increase self-esteem. 

A meta-analysis conducted in 2020 found that DBT was superior to no treatment and treatment as usual for individuals with BPD. Additionally, it was found that DBT significantly reduced the risk of dropout from treatment due to its emphasis on building a therapeutic alliance. Furthermore, the study noted that this form of therapy had a particularly beneficial effect on improving client’s quality of life and overall functioning in areas related to interpersonal relationships and emotional regulation. 

In addition to being highly effective in reducing symptoms of BPD among adults, there is evidence suggesting its efficacy in treating adolescents with the disorder as well. One study found that adolescents who had participated in a modified version of DBT showed significant reductions in suicidal behavior and anger expression after 18 months when compared to those who received standard care. 

Overall, Dialectical Behavior Therapy has demonstrated consistently positive results for the treatment of BPD when compared to other treatments or no treatment at all. While more research is needed to fully understand how this form of therapy can best be used to address the unique needs of BPD patients, it appears that it can certainly provide an effective means for managing the effects of BPD.

Interested in DBT? We Can Help

DBT helps people with mental illnesses feel better. The Counseling Center Group™ can help you learn the skills 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 love. We are committed to providing relatively short-term treatments to achieve positive, long-lasting results. Our therapists use structured, evidence-based methods to efficiently help you reach realistic goals. To learn more about DBT or therapy in general, contact us today. 


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