Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Mental illness is a topic that has been seen as something too taboo to freely talk about. For decades, people struggling with mental illness have internalized their symptoms, kept themselves from sharing their real feelings with others, and remained mum on the severity of their disorder all out of a fear of judgment and shame. There are still many people who feel like they need to mask their mental illness to others, however the tides are turning.
The message that mental illness can be a part of life and nothing to be ashamed about has never been more prominent than it is today. More people have openly shared their struggles and successes with their mental illnesses, shining a bright light on something that millions of Americans experience firsthand.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NAMI) reports that one out of every 5 adults in the United States has a mental illness. The intensity of one’s mental illness can vary based on several factors, however there are millions of people who are facing some of the most complex challenges due to the level of their mental illness. Specifically, individuals with borderline personality disorder, or BPD, have notoriously grappled with symptoms including suicidal tendencies, self-harm, significant and sudden mood swings, explosive anger, and overwhelming fear of abandonment. Recognizing how serious this particular mental health disorder is, a specialized therapy was developed to address these and other challenges. This therapy is known as dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT.
What Is DBT?
Dialectical behavioral therapy is an evidence-based therapy (meaning that it has been clinically proven to produce effective, long-lasting results) that helps individuals develop skills to better manage the distressing emotions they often experience. DBT is also revered for its ability to aid patients in reducing the amount of conflict in their relationships with others.
Dialectical behavioral therapy is applied in a professional setting by a mental health professional, such as a counselor, therapist, or psychologist. The skills that are learned to help regulate emotions and increase quality of life are provided in three separate settings:
- Groups — DBT patients work in groups with one another so they can engage in activities such as role playing to improve communication and relationships. Patients also complete a range of assignments designed to address their behavioral challenges.
- Individually — Patients will receive personalized therapy from a mental health professional in a private setting and develop skills specific to their unique needs.
- Remotely — While most DBT therapy is done in person, patients can continue to work on their treatment over the phone with their therapist, especially when they need some assistance in a pinch.
Within each one of these settings, patients remained focused on the overarching goal of regulating their emotions in a healthy manner. Dialectical behavioral therapy is able to teach the following to patients:
- Benefits of change
- Replacing destructive behaviors with productive behaviors
- Address problems effectively
- Recognize and change negative patterns of thinking and acting
- Improved communication
- Identify strengths and build on them
Dialectical behavioral therapy is able to reach patients with more severe mental health disorders than other behavioral therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). That does not mean that other therapies are not useful, rather more intense therapies like DBT are more beneficial in treating certain mental health disorders.
In dialectical behavioral therapy, patients will be developing skills on a regular basis, but the core skills that are taught through DBT include mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation. These skills are highly beneficial to patients with borderline personality disorder, but are equally as effective to those who have conditions such as an eating disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mindfulness is a practice that people from all different backgrounds work into their daily lives, as it is able to help calm the chaos of the world and get them focused on the present moment. When it comes to a mental health condition, mindfulness is a must-have skill, as it aids in quieting problematic psychological, physical, and emotional symptoms. Mindfulness also serves as a way to help reduce anxiety and get people reconnected to their spiritual side.
Distress tolerance is designed to help patients prepare themselves for what to do when big emotions occur. This includes developing a set of skills that allows them to cope and maintain a positive vantage point for the future. Distress tolerance specifically focuses on equipping patients with four skills to best tolerate distressing events. They include:
- Improving the present moment
- Soothing oneself
- Thinking of the benefits and risks of not tolerating distress
People who live with mental health conditions can find difficulty in developing and maintaining relationships with others, especially if their mental illness is not being treated. So through dialectical behavioral therapy, patients can learn how to improve upon how they establish and keep meaningful relationships with others. An easy way for patients to retain the skills they learn when focusing on interpersonal effectiveness is the use of acronyms, including the following:
- Appear confident
- Easy manner
- Stick to value
DEARMAN helps patients improve upon their objectiveness skills, GIVE builds on relationship effectiveness, and FAST focuses on self-respect in relationships.
Emotional regulation is something that every single person can benefit from learning, as being able to manage emotions effectively can drastically improve their lives. When receiving DBT, patients focus on identifying emotions, labeling them, and finding ways to alter emotions to help support healthier emotional wellbeing. Being able to do these things allows patients to become less vulnerable to their emotions, encouraging increased inner strength and emotional resiliency.
When focusing on these four skills, patients of DBT can open the doors of opportunity or themselves and begin changing their lives for the better. The skills learned through this therapy can be easily retained and applied in several different situations throughout a patient’s life. DBT has been and remains one of the most highly sought after forms of therapy to help treat the symptoms of some of the most complex mental health disorders. At Launch Centers in Los Angeles, we offer DBT as one of our therapeutic modalities to help client’s foster healing and develop new coping skills.