Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) originated in the 1970s as an effort to treat people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Now, many mental health experts are recognizing that DBT can be very helpful in treating other psychological conditions as well, including PTSD, eating disorders, drug addiction, and co-occurring disorders like anxiety and depression. In this guide to DBT, we’ll discuss what it is and how it works, along with some common misconceptions about the therapy and its goals.
What is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)?
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is a group of strategies for helping patients who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). DBT helps these patients regulate their emotions, decrease self-destructive behaviours, improve relationships, and develop healthier ways of dealing with stress. Though still considered a newer form of therapy, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy has been shown to be effective in improving emotional control and reducing impulsive behaviours in those suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s important to note that Dialectical Behaviour Therapy may also be used as an adjunctive therapy in combination with other treatments such as medication. For many therapists, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is seen as a critical aspect of treatment for anyone struggling with BPD; however, others feel like it falls short in some cases. In fact, some researchers have raised questions about whether or not we should even use labels like Borderline Personality Disorder at all because there are clear indicators that many of our current psychiatric diagnostic terms lack true validity. More on Borderline Personality Disorder: There are several theories related to what causes Borderline Personality Disorder, but no one really knows for sure why certain individuals develop BPD while others do not.
Who should use this therapy?
Although DBT is most commonly used for people diagnosed with BPD, anyone struggling to cope with overwhelming life experiences may find value in its teachings. For example, if you have ever found yourself feeling suicidal or self-harming after an intense emotional experience, you might want to try DBT—but even if you haven’t suffered from such intense episodes, there may be other aspects of your life that could benefit from learning skills from a therapy like DBT. Do you lash out at loved ones or co-workers often? Are you frequently consumed by guilt after committing a social faux pas or saying something inappropriate at work? Many of us exhibit dysfunctional behaviours that make our lives difficult.
How does this therapy work?
Dialectical behavioural therapy was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan in response to problems she saw with other, more traditional therapies for mental health issues. Rather than having patients focus on their negative feelings, which could make them feel even worse, Dr. Linehan wanted to create a program that encouraged patients to learn new ways of coping when emotions became too intense or overwhelming. In particular, patients learn skills related to mindfulness—the ability to pay attention to what’s happening in your mind and body at any given moment without judgement or emotional response. As you might imagine, these techniques don’t come easy at first.
How long will it take to see results?
Changes may be slow at first. But there are many strategies that you’ll learn over time to address your emotions. One change at a time, you’ll improve your coping skills, reduce symptoms, and feel more in control of your life. You’ll also likely see improvements in quality of life areas like relationships or employment. For some people, therapy will take more than one year; for others, it might take several years before you notice benefits—don’t give up! The long-term effects of good treatment are worth every bit of effort you put into it over time.