Dialectical Behavior Therapy 101: What It Is and Why You Need It

September 20, 2021

Given recent events like the COVID pandemic, economic uncertainties, and social injustice, it’s safe to assume that many people’s mental health has only been exacerbated. Thankfully, with more and more people realizing its importance, treatments have advanced. In fact, many researchers are discovering many ways to address mental illnesses. One of these treatments is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). 

In this article, you’ll discover more about DBT and we will discuss its applications in today’s psychotherapy practice. We’ll also introduce how it works and where you can find DBT in Arizona.

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

DBT is a therapy based on cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). It is a form of talk therapy that can be used in one-on-one, group, or virtual sessions. This method of treatment was pioneered in the late 1980s by Marsh M. Lineham, a renowned psychologist and author.  

Dialectic refers to the balance and harmony between acceptance and change. DBT helps patients discover themselves, synthesize a new outlook in life, and develop a sense of self to move forward in life.

DBT today is quite different from how Dr. Lineham envisioned the treatment. At first, it was designed to treat individuals with borderline personality disorder and suicidal individuals. However, DBT has evolved and can now treat substance abuse cases. 

What Disorders Can DBT Treat?

Initially, DBT intends to help patients who have borderline personality disorders and those with chronic suicidal tendencies by targeting self-destructive behaviors. However, many experts have adapted DBT to substance abuse too. DBT can also help treat the following mental health disorders:

-Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

-Bipolar disorder

-Eating disorders like bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorder

-Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

-Major depressive disorder (including chronic depression and treatment-resistant major depression)

-Non-suicidal and suicidal self-injury

-Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

-Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

DBT’s 5 Main Skills Modules

The dialectical behavior therapy framework highlights five skill modules to balance acceptance and change in a patient’s outlook in life, personal disposition, and intrapersonal relationships.


Mindfulness is an essential skill that helps patients feel fully aware of the moment and live life to its fullest. It focuses on the present and engaging in every moment. Mindfulness is the foundation of DBT, and patients can’t progress to other skills if they can’t master mindfulness. In DBT principles, mindfulness will help patients overcome or counter strong and overwhelming emotions. 

At the start of the DBT treatment, all patients will learn and apply mindful best practices until they become second nature. Mindfulness activities focus on acceptance and a warm-up for other DBT skills.

Distress Tolerance

This phase of DBT focuses on balancing the two opposites: acceptance and change. Distress tolerance will teach four primary techniques in dealing with overwhelming emotions: self-soothing, improving the stressful situation, pros and cons, distracting yourself. In this phase, patients will learn about radical acceptance, a full and unequivocal acceptance of situations that’ll yield positive and negative effects.

From there, patients will learn to accept events in their lives, whether positive, negative or both. That’s why, patients need to master mindfulness before this phase.

dialectical behavior therapy (dbt)

Emotion Regulation

Events cause positive and negative outcomes to a person, which in turn causes a release of emotions. Emotion regulation skills aim to help patients understand emotions, their purpose, and how to control them. This skill will teach patients to:

  • Identify emotions and why they arise
  • Label emotions as they arise
  • Accept emotions when they arise
  • Change emotional responses
  • Reduce vulnerabilities in entertaining negative emotions and thoughts
  • Manage extreme emotions that may cause a change in behavior

Emotion regulation is a culmination of mindfulness and distress tolerance. Once the patient learns more about their emotions, they can now cope with the extremes more effectively and less destructively.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

Under interpersonal effectiveness, patients will shift from purely personal concerns to interpersonal concerns. Meaning, this phase focuses on relationships with other people. Patients will learn to:

  • Be assertive by knowing what they want and when to say no
  • Improve and sustain relationships with others
  • Increase self-esteem and self-respect
  • Nurture healthy relationships with other people
  • Create positive social support

Middle Path

Middle path skills primarily focus on families and teens. It teaches the balance between acceptance and change and how families can work towards a lasting solution. The middle path module aims to create a healthier relationship with family members.

Who Can Perform DBT?

Since DBT is a form of psychotherapy, only licensed mental health specialists can perform it. However, there’s no prohibition for people to practice DBT skills in real life. Since it’s considered psychotherapy, it’s best to let experts and medical professionals treat their clients with DBT.

Graduates of other fields like social work can also perform DBT sessions as long as they have the certifications or advanced degrees in psychology.

How Does DBT Work?

Dialectical behavior therapy techniques are incorporated in a series of sessions that focuses on the five DBT skills. Treatment durations vary as well as the methods. Some allocate two weeks for mindfulness and six weeks for other skills. Moreover, there are one-on-ones, group, or virtual therapies. The duration of the treatment may vary depending on the patient’s case and the severeness of the mental health illness.

dialectical behavior therapy near me

Is it Effective?

Experts and medical professionals see the DBT as effective and successful because it enhances their coping skills by teaching clients to use healthy coping techniques when dealing with distress. However, as with other psychological treatments, the success of DBT heavily relies on the patient’s willingness to get better.

Dialectical Therapy in Arizona

Are you tired of searching “dialectical behavior therapy near me”? Your search has ended here. Buena Vista Health and Recovery Centers offers substance abuse treatment through individual and group counseling. Buena Vista serves in Cave Creek, Chandler, Scottsdale, and Tucson, Arizona. 

We offer DBT, individual counseling for drug recovery, and other necessary treatments to help you or your loved one live a healthier life. So, are you ready to reach out? Call us now at 866-283-7052 or our 24-hour admissions line at 866-630-9392. 

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