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What is DBT and Who Can it Help?

By August 11, 2017November 28th, 2018Dr. Beatriz Mann

DBT is short for Dialectical Behavior Therapy. So what does that mean? The term “dialectical” derives from the concept of bringing seemingly opposite ideas together: such as change AND acceptance. These concepts together tend to lead to more positive results than either one alone.

What is DBT

What is DBT

DBT is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Dr. Marsha Linehan originally created it as an intervention for adults struggling with borderline personality disorder. However, research shows that DBT can be effective for those struggling with a variety of mental health and physical issues. Those issues include (but are not limited to) depression, anxiety, chronic pain, substance abuse, suicidality, and self-injurious behaviors. Research has demonstrated that DBT can help both teens and adults.

DBT highlights the psychosocial aspect of people’s lives. It acknowledges that some people are predisposed to high emotional arousal, experience more intense emotions, and take a longer time to return to a more “neutral” emotional state.

DBT consists of four components: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.


This is the first component taught, as it introduces core mindfulness skills that are essential in order to be able to implement any of the other skills. Mindfulness is being present within one moment, in a purposeful and particular way. The idea is that by being mindful in a particular moment, you will be able to identify what is going on, which will then make it easier to know what to do about it.

Distress Tolerance

This module is twofold. It introduces and reviews crisis survival strategies that you can use in moments of crisis or when struck with a harmful urge. The skills are used in order to help you get through the moment, without making it worse. The second aspect of distress tolerance is a somewhat radical approach to life, called reality acceptance. Reality acceptance is when one accepts that pain is part of life. Reality acceptance helps reduce the suffering we experience around that pain because refusal and avoidance only increase our suffering!

Emotion Regulation

This module focuses on helping clients to better understand and identify their emotions, how to decrease emotional sensitivity, and how to learn to react to emotions in a less intense way. It also discusses ways to increase your resilience to emotions by assessing factors that increase your vulnerability to emotions and increasing your positive experiences.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

The skills taught in this module are similar to skills typically taught in assertiveness training classes. The skills focus on how to be assertive in asking for something, saying no, and how to cope with stressful interactions in a way that maximizes your chances of meeting your goals. Interpersonal Effectiveness goes a step beyond traditional assertiveness classes. It really highlights the necessary balance between what the situation calls for and what your various goals are, both in the short-term and the long-term.

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Dr. Mann is a licensed psychologist that specializes in healthy coping, college adjustment, anxiety, personal identity, balance, and mindfulness.

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