What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

Do you regret things about your past or worry about the future? Consequently, do you deal with the stress in unhealthy ways? What about letting your emotions get the best of you? Then, resulting in outbursts that you later regret?

If these are things you experience, you are not alone. This article will introduce you to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Certainly, DBT may be the life-changing approach that you need.

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

DBT operates out of a concept of dialectics, as seen in the name. But, what does dialectics mean? In short, dialectics is the exploration of opposing truths or contradictions within our lives. As humans, we face opposing realities in our experience. For example, hate vs. love, weak vs. strong, suffering vs. healing. In addition, we like to put things into “black and white” categories, leading to rigid thinking, inflexibility, and emotional response. Consequently, much of life, however, is lived in a “gray area.” For instance, we can love someone but struggle with opposing feelings of resentment or pain towards them. Consequently, DBT allows two opposing truths to exist at the same time.

Above all, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) combines four components, or skills. Those four skills include Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, and Interpersonal Effectiveness. 


Mindfulness skills train your mind to stay in the present moment. Additionally, they help to calm the mind and control your thoughts. For many people, thoughts control them to a degree. However, implementing mindfulness skills teaches you to practice non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment. In building mindfulness skills, you resist impulses, separate fact versus emotion, and become resilient to moments.

Emotion Regulation  

Emotion Regulation helps to healthily express feelings when experiencing difficult situations. An example of a DBT Emotion Regulation skill is ‘Opposite Action’.  That is to say, you identify the impulse from an emotion, identify the opposite action and act upon the latter. One of the most common examples here is anger. For instance, if you tend to escalate your voice to yell when you are mad, do the opposite by whispering your thoughts and feelings to a support person.

Distress Tolerance 

Distress Tolerance skills are when we are in crisis and have limited options to improve the situation. In other words, this skill is designed for moments that we cannot change, and our goal is purely to avoid making it worse with our emotional reaction. Meanwhile, you can’t control the situation, you can however control how you respond to the problem. For example, you can practice a distress tolerance skill by engaging with your five senses to help calm you instead of getting into fight or flight mode. This technique is called the ‘Self-Soothe” skill. Examples include:

  • Watching or listening to a video of the ocean.
  • Scrolling through pictures on your phone.
  • Lighting your favorite scented candle.
  • Eating a piece of chocolate.
  • Cuddling with your pet.

Interpersonal Effectiveness  

Interpersonal Effectiveness increases awareness of how behavior affects relationships.  As a result, you learn how to make positive changes to improve relationships. That is to say, these DBT skills build better relationships by communicating healthily, creating boundaries, and building trust.

Who Developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

Dr. Marsha Linehan pioneered Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT) in the 1970s and is most well-known for treating borderline personality disorder (BPD). Today, it treats many other disorders such as substance use disorders, suicide risk, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).


What is the difference between Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectic Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Focuses on identifying negative thought and behavior patterns to cultivate healthy changes.


Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Uses acronyms to help teach skills. Focuses on validating negative thought patterns and behaviors while offering solutions to help facilitate change.


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Uses metaphors to help teach skills. Focuses on doing things that bring meaning to life even when you are in pain and is a values-based work.

Will Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT) work for you?

DBT is a highly effective form of therapy that works for a wide range of mental health disorders. To clarify, the core concepts of DBT make it remarkably effective in dealing with problematic thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationships. DBT is an effective option for you if you are suffering from any of these disorders:
1- Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
2- Bipolar Disorder
3- Substance Use Disorder
4- Eating Disorders
5- Major Depressive Disorder
6- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

It is effective for such a wide range because of its unique approach to healing, which involves tackling the root of the problem rather than providing a quick fix.

About the Contributor

Mandy Paysse

Proofed and Verified by: Erica Aina, LCSW

Erica is the Clinical Supervisor and one of many therapists at Elliott Counseling Group. As the Clinical Supervisor she supports clinical growth, oversees protocols, and provides mentorship, monitoring, support, and supervision to therapists. As a therapist, she specializes in trauma work, depression, children/teen issues, and crisis management.


If you have been considering seeing a therapist in Illinois who specializes in DBT, we are here to help. Starting therapy is about growth and the desire to live a better life. It is a sign of strength, not weakness, and will empower you on so many levels. We offer medication management, therapy, and counseling services in Champaign, Urbana, and Mattoon. There are no long wait lists, and we are accepting new clients. We would love to see if we fit your needs well. Contact our client care team to get started.