Dialectical Behavior Therapy
DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) is a skills-based therapy combining both clinical research on what supports us to manage difficult thoughts and emotions as well as mindfulness, the practice of non-judgmental, present moment awareness.
Skills to build a life worth living
Developed around 30 years ago by Dr. Marsha Linehan at the University of Washington, DBT is known to support those with the following symptoms. Research shows it also makes a significant impact in treating anxiety and depression.
DBT can help
While many other therapies are 'talk-oriented', DBT is a kind of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that supports behavior change through skills acquisition and practice, with a base in mindfulness.
A DBT therapist builds rapport and offers validation and emotional support – while also helping clients identify values, set goals, and work to achieve those goals to build a life worth living.
For many of us with emotional reactivity, it can be difficult to regulate our emotions after a challenging event. Oftentimes, our emotions elicit an urge to engage in a behavior that leads to more suffering than relief.
The emotion regulation skills of DBT offer a different path. DBT and its core skill of mindfulness helps us re-center after a difficult situation, decrease feelings of urgency and reactivity, and reduce emotional arousal when needed to be most effective in our lives.
With DBT, we build the ability to manage how intensely we feel our emotions — as well as build skills to change ineffective behaviors when we feel strong emotions.
Living in a world of social media connectivity, 24/7 news cycles, caregiving for others, and COVID-impacted world can make us feel like the ‘fight flight freeze’ response of our nervous system is permanently stuck in the ‘on’ position. This taxes our immune system and often leaves us in a state of overwhelm and fatigue.
Working with a DBT therapist and building a ‘tool kit’ of skills can help us build tolerance and better manage emotions during times of intense anxiety and stress. The goal is to learn to manage anxiety through the doorways of physical responses, emotions and thoughts – using both change and acceptance strategies to reduce distress and move our lives forward towards our goals.
We are a social species and get our needs met in collaboration with those around us. The relationship and self-respect building skills of DBT can help us reduce conflict in our relationships, build meaningful new relationships, and end or put clear boundaries around relationships that are not healthy or effective for us. DBT skills also benefit us by increasing the probability of getting more of our needs met in relationships and effectively being able to advocate for limits and boundaries that support us to emotionally regulate.
It’s normal for us to feel bouts of sadness when a challenging life event occurs, but when the sadness stretches on for months, and experiencing joy from the things that used to brighten our lives is harder, depression could be at work. DBT is clinically indicated to treat depression, drawing on treatment practices from CBT, Behavioral Activation, ACT and mindfulness for depression. A DBT therapist will collaborate with clients to generate a holistic treatment plan, working to identify a client’s values and what is meaningful in the client’s life.
Research indicates that when we set our behavior in line with what is meaningful to us, we typically experience a flow of positive emotions and the symptoms of depression dissipate. The goal in treating depression is to not learn to tread water on a lake of misery but to build a life worth living.
Many of us struggle with procrastination, and the urge to ‘put things off’ that need attention, turning instead to frequent distraction or numbing. Or similarly, we may feel the urge to avoid and ‘turn away’ from stressful or painful experiences to protect ourselves and cope better with difficult experiences in the short term.
This kind of procrastination or avoidance may feel protective in the short term, but in the medium and long-term they often have truly negative consequences. We may feel ‘stuck’ and unable to make progress towards our goals and values. We may start to notice serious repercussions for our relationships, health, and self-esteem.
Using the structure of DBT, we support clients to more deeply explore and change patterns of avoidance or procrastination. This includes learning how to use mindfulness and emotion regulation skills to better recognize and address underlying thoughts, emotions and conditioned responses that may make forward momentum difficult. It may also include developing a behavioral activation and ‘cope ahead’ plan to help clients stay accountable to self-identified goals.
Often times a client’s individual experience of bipolar disorder doesn’t fit neatly into a diagnostic box. At East West DBT, a therapist will work with the client to understand the client’s history and experience of the diagnosis. When appropriate, the therapist will coordinate with various members of a client’s treatment team (such as their psychiatrist), offering referrals on how to expand that team as needed.
DBT treatment involves first developing and utilizing mindfulness or awareness skills to better understand a client’s unique signs of an intensifying emotion or urge, in order to open the door to further use of the DBT distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness skills.