The Ultimate Guide to Understanding DBT Therapy

Introduction to DBT Therapy

Ever felt overwhelmed by emotions? Or perhaps struggled with maintaining stable relationships due to intense feelings? If that sounds familiar, we can make sense of such struggles. Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, is a type of therapy that directly addresses these concerns. It expands upon Cognitive Behavioral Therapy but adds unique elements designed specifically for people experiencing emotional dysregulation, something many of us face from time to time.

What is DBT Therapy?

DBT is a form of talking therapy that helps people whose emotions tend to be intense and easily changeable. This therapeutic approach was specifically designed to assist individuals suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD). Nevertheless, it has proven effective in managing a variety of problems, including self-harming behaviors, suicidal thoughts, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more.

The goal of DBT is quite simple – to provide you with valuable coping skills, help you change certain behaviors that might be harmful or disruptive, and assist you in achieving a balance between acceptance and change. This balance is the heart of the “dialectical” aspect of DBT, fostering an environment where seemingly contradictory actions – like accepting oneself while also seeking to change – can harmoniously coexist.

Brief View into DBT Therapy

  • Type: Talking therapy based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Developed for: People with intense and changeable emotions, particularly beneficial for those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
  • Goal: To provide coping skills, provoke behavior change, and foster a balance between acceptance and change
  • Components: DBT typically includes individual therapy, group skills training, and in-the-moment coaching for dealing with crises.
  • Duration: Varies, based on individual needs and progress

Infographic illustrating the components and process of DBT Therapy - dbt therapy what is infographic roadmap-5-steps

We, at DBT of South Jersey, are committed to guiding you through your DBT journey. Whether you are battling an existing diagnosis or wrestling with mood swings and emotional instability, we are here to support you. DBT therapy is much more than learning skills; it’s about transforming lives and building a hopeful future. Welcome aboard!

In the following sections, we’ll delve deeper into the origin and development of DBT, explaining its unique selling proposition and why it has been significantly successful in transforming lives around the globe.

Understanding the Core Principles of DBT Therapy

Understanding DBT therapy begins with gaining a solid grasp of its core principles. Shaelene Lauriano Kite, our resident expert at DBT of South Jersey, explains that the foundation of DBT rests on the Biosocial Theory of BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), the Dialectical Philosophy, and the role of Mindfulness and Acceptance.

The Biosocial Theory of BPD and DBT

DBT is rooted in the Biosocial Theory of BPD. This theory suggests that individuals with BPD have a biological predisposition towards emotional sensitivity, which, when combined with an invalidating environment, leads to the development of BPD. Our environment includes our relationships, interactions, and experiences that fail to validate our feelings or responses. DBT doesn’t view BPD as a fault, but rather as a logical response to a combination of biological and environmental factors.

The Dialectical Philosophy in DBT

Dialectical thinking is another cornerstone in understanding DBT therapy. It refers to the process of finding balance, synthesis, and acceptance in seemingly contradictory thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. For instance, in DBT, therapists aim to balance acceptance and change-oriented strategies. They often suggest both acceptance-based and change-based solutions to problems, allowing clients to synthesize different perspectives and find balance. This unique approach enables DBT therapists to focus on movement, speed, and flow within therapy sessions, shifting their style and intensity based on what’s working best in the moment.

The Role of Mindfulness and Acceptance in DBT

Mindfulness and acceptance play a pivotal role in DBT. Mindfulness skills are taught to help patients focus on present experiences, observe them nonjudgmentally, and participate fully in current activities. This approach fosters the ability to regulate emotions and tolerate distress in a more effective manner.

Another key intervention in DBT is radical acceptance, which involves accepting the experience of the present moment as it is, without struggling to change or resist it. This acceptance extends to the patient too, with therapists validating the legitimacy of the patient’s experiences, emotional reactions, thoughts, and opinions.

At DBT of South Jersey, we believe in the transformative power of these core principles. Our expert therapists apply these principles to support our clients in their journey towards emotional regulation and life balance.

In the next section, we will delve into the structure and components of DBT therapy, helping you understand how these principles are put into practice.

DBT Therapy Core Principles - dbt therapy what is

The Structure and Components of DBT Therapy

DBT therapy is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s a complex, holistic therapy program that combines various components to address the diverse needs of individuals. Let’s unpack the structure and components of DBT therapy so that you can better understand what it entails.

The Five Functions of Treatment in DBT

Understanding DBT starts with understanding its five key functions. These are the essential elements that guide the implementation of DBT therapy.

1. Enhancing Capabilities: We believe that individuals may lack or need to improve several life skills such as emotion regulation, mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance. These skills are often enhanced through weekly group sessions, where individuals learn, practice, and discuss new skills.

2. Generalizing Capabilities: It’s important that the skills learned in therapy sessions are applied to the individuals’ daily lives. In DBT, we encourage this through homework assignments and individual therapy sessions where patients apply new skills in real-life situations.

3. Improving Motivation and Reducing Dysfunctional Behaviors: In DBT, we aim to improve patients’ motivation to change and reduce behaviors that interfere with a life worth living. This is primarily achieved in individual therapy sessions where therapists help patients understand and address behaviors that are inconsistent with their life goals.

4. Enhancing Patient Capabilities and Motivation: This function involves helping the patient to apply learned skills in their daily life and increase their motivation for change.

5. Structuring the Environment: DBT therapists work to ensure that the environment around the patient reinforces the use of learned skills and does not reward dysfunctional behaviors.

The Four Major Skills of DBT: Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotional Regulation

These five functions are achieved through the teaching and application of four major skills in DBT:

Mindfulness: Helps individuals to focus and stay present in the current moment without judgment.

Distress Tolerance: Teaches individuals how to manage and endure suffering in crisis situations without resorting to destructive behaviors.

Interpersonal Effectiveness: Equips individuals with skills to maintain healthy relationships with others, manage conflicts, and set appropriate boundaries.

Emotional Regulation: Helps individuals to understand and manage their emotions effectively, using them to guide choices and actions in life.

The Multistage Approach of DBT Therapy

DBT therapy also follows a multistage approach. In stage one, the primary goal is to achieve behavioral control. This involves addressing life-threatening behaviors, behaviors that interfere with therapy, and behaviors that severely interfere with one’s quality of life.

In stage two, the focus shifts to experiencing emotions without shutting down or avoiding them. This stage aims to heal from past trauma.

In stages three and four, the focus is on solving ordinary life problems and addressing feelings of incompleteness. The ultimate goal is to develop a sense of meaning and connection within the world.

In summary, DBT therapy is not just a therapy session; it’s a comprehensive program designed to enhance life skills, improve motivation, and address behaviors that interfere with a fulfilling life. We believe DBT therapy provides a structured, systematic, and empathetic approach to help individuals navigate through their emotional struggles and achieve a balanced, fulfilling life.

The Application and Effectiveness of DBT Therapy

DBT Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

At the heart of DBT therapy is its application for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). BPD is a complex mental health disorder characterized by emotional instability, difficulty in maintaining relationships, and a tendency towards self-harm or suicidal behavior.

DBT therapy was specifically developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan to help BPD patients manage their emotional dysregulation and decrease self-destructive behaviors. Through a combination of individual therapy, group skills training, and phone coaching, DBT provides a comprehensive and structured approach to treat BPD. It equips patients with the skills to regulate their emotions, manage distress, improve interpersonal relationships, and increase mindfulness.

DBT Therapy for Other Mental Health Conditions

While DBT was initially developed for BPD, its application has since expanded to other mental health conditions. Research suggests that DBT can be beneficial for individuals with substance use disorders, eating disorders, and mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder. Furthermore, DBT has shown promise in treating individuals with complex post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic self-criticism.

At DBT of South Jersey, we view DBT therapy as a tool to address a wide array of symptoms, regardless of the specific diagnosis. Our focus is on helping individuals manage their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life.

The Evidence-Based Success of DBT Therapy

DBT is not just a theory; it’s a proven, evidence-based treatment. Multiple well-controlled, randomized clinical trials have demonstrated that DBT is an effective treatment for BPD and related problems. For instance, DBT-Prolonged Exposure (DBT-PE), an adaptation of DBT for trauma-related disorders, has shown remarkable results, with studies reporting that upwards of 80% of participants no longer met the criteria for PTSD post-treatment.

In addition, DBT has been successful in reducing suicidal and self-harming behaviors, improving emotional regulation, and enhancing interpersonal effectiveness. Despite its demanding nature, studies have documented significant improvements within a year of treatment, particularly in controlling self-harmful behavior.

At DBT of South Jersey, we’re proud to offer this evidence-based treatment to our clients, providing them with the tools they need to lead happier, healthier lives.

The Process of DBT Therapy

In understanding ‘dbt therapy what is’, it’s important to dive into how the therapy is conducted. DBT treatment is a structured process that consists of individual therapy sessions, group skills training, homework assignments, and telephone crisis coaching.

Individual Therapy Sessions in DBT

In individual therapy, you work directly with a therapist to address specific issues that are affecting your life. The goal is to help you build a life that you want to participate in fully. During these sessions, therapists use a balance of acceptance and change techniques to replace harmful behaviors with ones that will support your wellbeing.

As part of comprehensive DBT, individual therapy takes place weekly. The therapist helps you understand the triggers leading to destructive behaviors and aids you in developing new coping strategies. These sessions are not just about discussing problems but actively working towards solutions.

Group Skills Training in DBT

Group skills training is another key component of DBT. In these sessions, you learn and practice new skills alongside others. The therapist might ask you to participate in group exercises and role-play scenarios.

The focus of group sessions is on four key areas: mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation. Each week, you’re given homework to practice these skills in your day-to-day life. This makes sure that the skills learned in therapy sessions transfer to your everyday situations.

The Role of Diary Cards and Homework in DBT

Diary cards and homework play a crucial role in DBT. They are tools that help you track your progress, self-monitor your behaviors, and practice skills outside of therapy sessions. Each week, you fill out a diary card to monitor various treatment targets like self-harm, emotional distress, and interpersonal conflicts.

These tools are not just about tracking behaviors, but also about improving motivation to change. Your therapist uses this information to prioritize session time and to help you apply new skills in your daily life.

Telephone Crisis Coaching in DBT

DBT often uses telephone crisis coaching to support you in your day-to-day life. This means that you can call your therapist for support between sessions. These calls are usually brief, lasting 10-15 minutes, and focus on helping you use skills to prevent ineffective behavior.

Whether it’s to prevent self-harm behaviors when skills are not working, get help using skills in daily life situations, or repair the therapeutic relationship, phone coaching is a valuable tool.

DBT is not a quick fix. It requires consistent effort and commitment. But, with the right support and resources, it can make a significant difference in your life. As we say at DBT of South Jersey, “At first it was really tough, and I wondered what the point of it was going to be. But as time passed, it started to make more sense.”

Finding the Right DBT Therapist and Accessing DBT Therapy

Getting the best out of DBT therapy hinges significantly on finding the right therapist. You need a guiding hand that is not just experienced, but also a good fit for you. Here, we’ll guide you through the process of selecting the right DBT therapist and accessing DBT therapy.

The Different Professionals Who Can Provide DBT Therapy

DBT therapy can be provided by a range of mental health professionals. However, a DBT therapist is a licensed mental health professional who has undergone additional training and certification in DBT. These professionals have completed advanced academic and clinical work to gain a comprehensive understanding of DBT. Certified DBT therapists may use the designation CDBT.

How to Find a Certified and Licensed DBT Therapist

Identifying a certified and licensed DBT therapist can be a crucial step towards a successful therapy outcome. As we do at DBT of South Jersey, it’s advisable to seek a therapist who not only has extensive training but also experience in using DBT to treat patients with concerns similar to yours.

When seeking a DBT therapist, here are some important questions to ask:

  • How often have you dealt with problems similar to mine?
  • How do you assess if my situation is a good fit for DBT?
  • Can you explain how DBT works?
  • What does a typical treatment plan look like and how long does therapy usually last?
  • How do you measure progress?
  • What is the extent of your training in DBT?

The Duration and Commitment Required for DBT Therapy

While studies of DBT have shown improvements within a year of treatment, particularly in controlling self-harm behavior, the overall duration of therapy can extend over several years. DBT requires a significant commitment from patients. It’s not a quick fix but a transformative process that demands consistent effort.

Accessing DBT Therapy: Public and Private Options

DBT therapy can be accessed through various channels. Public options like the NHS can provide DBT therapy, usually with a referral from your doctor or mental health team. However, it’s important to note that DBT isn’t available everywhere and NHS waiting lists can be long.

Private options are also available and may offer more immediate access to DBT therapy. At DBT of South Jersey, we provide comprehensive DBT programming, including individual providers who specialize in DBT as well as DBT skills groups.

Finding the right DBT therapist and accessing therapy may seem overwhelming, but with the right guidance and perseverance, you can navigate this journey and find the help you need. As always, we’re here to support you every step of the way.

Conclusion: The Hopeful Future of DBT Therapy

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is more than just a therapy; it’s a journey towards a more balanced and fulfilling life. As we’ve learned, it’s a comprehensive treatment plan that caters to individuals who experience intense emotions and struggle with mental health challenges such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). But what’s truly remarkable about DBT is its adaptable nature; it’s not limited to treating BPD alone but has shown promising results for various other mental health conditions too.

The goal of DBT is not to eliminate emotions but to equip individuals with the skills to manage them effectively. It’s about finding the middle path — a balance between acceptance and change. Just as one of our clients beautifully put it: “I’ve learned that emotions are not the enemy. They are useful and have functions. I still feel emotions intensely, but I can now identify them and know how to manage them without using harmful behaviors.”

At DBT of South Jersey, our mission is to provide individuals with the tools to navigate their emotions, improve their relationships, and overall, enhance their quality of life. We’re dedicated to helping you understand what DBT therapy is and how it can be beneficial for your unique needs.

We believe that DBT can offer a hopeful future for many. Research continues to highlight its effectiveness, and as more healthcare professionals receive training in DBT, we’re optimistic that more individuals will have access to this life-changing therapy.

If you’re considering DBT, remember that this journey, though challenging, can lead to profound growth and healing. As Ashlee Maruca, one of our therapists, shared: “The same is true for being a client in therapy, especially in DBT. It is incredibly difficult work, and it takes a great deal of vulnerability and bravery. I try to never take for granted how lucky I am to be able to guide clients along the path toward growth, healing, and a life worth living.”

As we conclude our guide, we encourage you to explore more about DBT therapy, its applications, and its potential benefits for you or your loved ones. We recommend reading more about what DBT is, choosing a DBT therapist, and the various DBT services we offer.

We’re here to support you in your journey towards healing and growth. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about our services, do not hesitate to contact us.

DBT is not just about surviving, but about thriving. And with DBT, we believe that a life worth living is entirely possible.

hope - dbt therapy what is

You are not alone in this journey. We’re here to help you navigate the waves of your emotions and guide you towards a bright, hopeful future.


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