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What is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)?

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidenced based treatment that provides skills for dealing with intense emotions and improving relationships. Originally developed by the psychologist Dr.Marsha Linehan in the 1980s, this treatment is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). DBT is more structured and teaches skills through four core modules: mindfulness, distress tolerance, personal effectiveness, and emotional regulation.

Mindfulness teaches us to become more aware of the present moment. We learn to focus on one thing at a time, without judging yourself or others.

Distress tolerance teaches constructive, in-the-moment alternatives to prevent harmful and impulsive behaviors. These include a deep breathing exercise, taking a walk, or listening to music.

Interpersonal effectiveness teaches the essential skills to create healthy relationships while taking care of our own needs. It includes learning how to navigate conflicts or challenging relationships, be assertive and communicate needs clearly.

Emotional regulation teaches effective ways to manage intense emotions and respond in a controlled manner instead of getting swept away by strong emotions.

Dialectical behavior therapy is an acknowledgment that real life is complex, and two seemingly opposite things can be true at the same time. For example, it is important to accept where we are and strive to grow. It is equally important to recognize that we are doing our best and it takes time to change.

Dialectical behavior therapy recognizes the constant fluctuation of feelings—many of them contradictory—without having to get caught up in them. Therapist can assist with understanding emotions and identifying negative thinking patterns in order to replace these patterns with positive behavioral changes.

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