What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

Do you find yourself regretting things from your past and worrying about the future? Do you get stressed out and then turn to an unhealthy way to deal with the stress? What about letting your emotions get the best of you and having an outburst that you later wish you handled differently?

 If these are things you experience, you are not alone. In this article, we are going to introduce you to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and how it works. This could not only be the thing you are looking for, but it can be life changing.

DBT operates out of a concept of dialectics, as seen in the name. But what does dialectics mean? It is the exploration of opposing truths or contradictions within our lives. As humans, we are constantly confronted with opposing truths in our experience (hate vs. loveweak vs. strong, suffering vs. healing). We like to put things into “black and white” categories much of the time, which can lead to rigid thinking, inflexibility, and emotional response. Much of life, however, is lived in a “gray area.” For example, we can love someone but struggle with the opposing feelings of resentment or pain towards them. DBT helps us with those, “Yes, and…” situations that allow two opposing truths to exist at the same time. 

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a combination of four component, or skills, that include Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, and Interpersonal Effectiveness. 


Mindfulness skills will help you to train your mind to stay in the present moment, calm the mind, and stay in control of your thoughts. For many of us, it can feel like we lose in our thoughts or get carried away by them. When we implement mindfulness skills we learn to pause, observe our surroundings and internal thoughts and feelings, and practice non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment. In building this skill, we can resist the urge to react on impulse, increase our ability to separate fact versus feeling, and are more resilient to moments where we might normally take things personally.

Emotion Regulation  

Emotion Regulation will help you identify, manage, and expressyour feelings in a healthy way when you are forced to cope with a difficult situation. An example of a DBT Emotion Regulation skill is ‘Opposite Action,’ where you can identify the impulse that comes with an emotion, identify what the opposite action would be, and then take that action. One of the most common examples here is with anger. 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 taught in DBT for those moments where we are in crisis, and it feels like we have limited options in terms of expressing ourselves or making the situation better. In fact, this skill is designed for moments that we cannot change, and our goal is purely to avoid making it worse with our emotional reaction. While you may not be able to control the situation, you can control how you respond to the situation. When you are feeling this level of distress, one way you can practice a distress tolerance skill is by engaging with your 5 senses to help calm you instead of getting into fight or flight mode. This 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, or cuddling with your pet.

Interpersonal Effectiveness  

Interpersonal Effectiveness helps you become aware of how your behavior is affecting relationships and how to make positive changes to improve them. These DBT skills will help build better relationships by communicating in a healthy way, creating boundaries, and building trust.

Who Developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT) was pioneered by Dr. Marsha Linehan in the 1970s and is most well-known for treating borderline personality disorder (BPD). Today, it is used to treat 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 has been known to work for a wide range of mental health disorders. The core concepts that DBT is based on 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

Proofed and Verified by: Erica Aina, LCSW

Mandy is a creative and multi-passionate marketer. She is responsible for supporting, developing and executing strategic marketing campaigns. She works on all marketing pieces for the company from the life of the website, email marketing, social media and outreach to support brand awareness around all things Elliott Counseling Group offers.

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, Tuscola, Charleston, and Mattoon. There are no long wait lists, and we are accepting new clients. We would love to see if we are a good fit for your needs. Contact our client care team to get started.  

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