Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is one of the most successful therapies available to treat Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Developed by psychologist Marsha Linehan, DBT’s structured format and acceptance-based philosophy have helped thousands of people to get their BPD under control and make their lives better. But what exactly is DBT? What does it do? And why has it become so popular? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at DBT and its creator to understand how it works and what it does for clients.

Definition of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, or DBT, was created by Dr. Marsha Linehan in 1981 to help people who experience emotion dysregulation, self-harm and suicidal tendencies. For many years before she created DBT, Dr. Linehan worked with individuals who had difficulty managing their emotions and regulating their behaviours. She found that standard treatments of her day were not very effective for these individuals and as a result she came up with what she calls an opposite behaviour treatment strategy. This treatment strategy places emphasis on reducing difficult behaviours while simultaneously fostering positive ones so that everyone can have more positive experiences instead of negative ones to cope with life stressors and difficulties.

History of DBT

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy was developed by psychologist Marsha M. Linehan in her quest to develop effective ways of treating people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). BPD is a mental illness characterized by difficulty controlling emotions, impulsive behaviour, and often self-destructive tendencies. Because so many of its symptoms are similar to those found in other disorders such as depression and anxiety, it can be hard to diagnose BPD even for experienced mental health professionals. In fact, most people with BPD go undiagnosed for years or decades because their condition was originally thought of as one that could not be treated effectively.

Components of DBT

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) consists of four main components: individual psychotherapy, group skills training, telephone consultation team, and therapist consultation team. In addition to these specific interventions, treatment may also include referral to medications, or other counselling services. The skills taught in DBT are intended to be incorporated into daily life; therefore patients often participate in weekly and bi-weekly homework assignments.

The Goals of DBT

DBT, as it’s typically administered, consists of two major components: individual therapy and group skills training. Both of these activities are done regularly. Therapists also administer daily diaries and phones sessions with patients. But beyond that, there are four main goals of DBT treatment. They are as follows 

  • The decrease in self-harming behaviours (such as suicide attempts) 
  • Improvement in mindfulness 
  • Decrease in dysfunctional behaviours (such as substance abuse or physical violence) 
  • Reduction in emotional pain or depression.

The ultimate goal of DBT, though, is to help people establish meaningful lives despite their difficulties. And to do so while maintaining a sense of worthiness and dignity. For many patients who have struggled for years with psychiatric symptoms—and multiple failed treatments—this goal might seem lofty. But research suggests that when implemented well, cognitive behavioural therapy can be an effective way to help chronically suicidal individuals manage their disorders while living satisfying lives that they enjoy being a part of every day.

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