What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

One of the reasons people avoid getting help for mental health or substance use issues is because of the terminology. For some reason, that doesn’t stand in the way of us getting medical help, which has just as many strange terms. Okay, so perhaps it is the stigma, but one would have to agree that ‘Dialectical Behavior Therapy’ does not exactly roll off the tongue. Maybe just stick with DBT.

What is DBT?

DBT is a type of therapy that is based on using two opposite, or dialectical, ideas to create a transformation. Those two opposite ideas are specifically acceptance and change. Acceptance involves looking at things as they are, without the emotional reactions or the responses caused by past pain or trauma. Acceptance allows us to see ourselves as-is, no judgment, removing shame, guilt, and other emotion-based conclusions about ourselves.

The opposing force in DBT is change. After we accept ourselves for who we are, after we accept everything around us for what it is, we also are willing to change. The difference is that this change is not motivated by guilt, shame, or other negative emotions, this change is motivated simply by the desire to improve our lives, improve our circumstances.

This type of therapy is an evidence-based practice, or a type of therapy that has scientific research to prove that it works. It is very effective with mental health and substance use issues, because it requires us to be an active participant. We are not just sitting on a couch telling some therapist about our dreams. We must be willing to sincerely participate, to learn new skills and to take responsibility for the process of our healing. It is engaging and personal to your situation, not some cookie-cutter plan that you must adhere to.

What Skills Can I Learn in DBT?

One of the skills you learn in DBT is mindfulness. This is the practice of looking at things as they are, and simply accepting them. By removing all of the drama we tend to see the world through when we have mental health and substance use issues, we can be present and see that, for example, an apple is just an apple, not some conspiracy from our evil stepmother who wants us out of the way.

Another skill is learning to manage stress. There will always be stressors in our lives – positive and negative. It is easy to become overwhelmed by stressors, but at the end of the day, we have control over how those impact us internally. Meaning we control our reaction to stress. This is a learned skill, it does not usually come naturally for most of us.

Communication is a big part of DBT, specifically learning to communicate effectively. We can learn to advocate for ourselves and our needs, while also hearing what others tell us. This is crucial for the big relationships in our lives, particularly family, to keep the conversation going and learn to avoid simple misunderstandings. Communication is also key in helping us live with mental health and substance use issues.

The other main skill learned in DBT is emotional regulation. With depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other issues, our brains often tie emotions to things that don’t match the event. For example, if we were depressed around a birthday, we might always view birthdays as depressing. Maybe as we get older, our own birthdays do get a little depressing, but most people enjoy birthdays, they are a time of celebration. Emotional regulation helps us re-align our emotions based on what is actually happening, not just what has happened before.

Why Does DBT Help Mental Health?

Our mental health is based on both our neurobiology and chemical reactions in the brain, as well as learned experiences and our perception of what is happening. A medical doctor like a psychiatrist can address the physiological side of mental health, including substance use. Therapy addresses the experience and perception part of our mental health. When used with medical care, DBT has been proven to be one of the more effective forms of therapy for mental health.

DBT first addresses the most serious behaviors that come with mental health and substance use. Then the above skills are taught, the skills which teach us quality of life. Next, improving our relationships is the focus, and finally, the focus is on how to experience more joy in our lives. These steps work to take ourselves from crisis to functioning to living. It is a healing process in which we go from a lack of mental health to being a mental health superhero.

Perhaps you have tried different treatments for mental health before, and they did not help you. But DBT is different. It takes you from where you were to where you want to be, and engages you to do the work and make the difference in your own experiences. DBT gives you power over you own life, your own emotions, and your own mental health.

Embark is the most trusted name in teen and young adult mental health treatment. We’re driven to find the help your family needs. If you’re looking for support, contact us today.    

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Embark Behavioral Health

Embark Behavioral Health

Embark Behavioral Health is a leading network of outpatient centers and residential programs offering premier mental health treatment for preteens, teens, and young adults. Dedicated to its big mission of reversing the trends of teen and young adult anxiety, depression, and suicide by 2028, Embark offers a robust continuum of care with different levels of service and programming; has a deep legacy of over 25 years serving youths; works with families to adjust treatment in real time to improve results; treats the entire family using an evidence-supported approach; and offers the highest levels of quality care and safety standards. For more information about Embark or its treatment programs, including virtual services, intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), therapeutic day treatment programs, also known as partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), residential treatment, and outdoor therapy, visit embarkbh.com.