There are a variety of therapies and methods that can be beneficial in both mental health and addiction treatment. One common and effective method is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy known as dialectical behavioral therapy.
What Is DBT?
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) was first developed in the late 1970s to help individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) deal with distress, direct their emotions, interact with people more effectively, and prevent self-destructive behaviors. The scope of DBT has grown over the years, and it has been successfully used to treat individuals with a variety of mental health challenges.
How Is DBT Different from CBT?
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is another type of therapy that’s commonly used in addiction and mental health treatment. This form of talk therapy is focused on identifying negative thoughts and self-talk, and then challenging them. Once the person understands how their beliefs and judgments about themselves are distorted, they can then guide those inner beliefs—and the thoughts that follow them—to a healthier, more realistic place.
DBT, on the other hand, is focused less on thoughts and more on behaviors and actions. It goes beyond the mental aspect and emphasizes developing skills that can be used to withstand distress and manage emotional and behavioral responses.
Though their methods and primary purposes may be different, CBT and DBT work well together and can be easily combined into a well-rounded treatment approach.
The Four Key Elements of DBT
Dialectical behavioral therapy focuses on improving four major areas: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. Each of these areas is a key part of a person’s ability to function well alone and with others.
Mindfulness is about being present in the moment and aware of one’s surroundings. In the context of DBT, this means getting the person out of their head and helping them observe without judgment or attachment. By focusing on the present and not allowing thoughts to run off, the person can remain calm and balanced.
Distress tolerance is the ability to withstand difficult emotions and situations without resorting to harmful or extreme behavior. DBT works to increase this tolerance level, making it easier to handle crisis and confrontation in healthy, productive ways. For some, this may mean being able to handle rejection or loss without turning to substance abuse. For others, this could mean being able to get through an argument without lashing out verbally or physically.
Mental health issues can make it hard to recognize and manage one’s emotions. In DBT, improving emotional regulation involves developing the skills to identify and process even intense, complex emotions. This helps individuals understand themselves better, keep their feelings in balance, and avoid emotional outbursts.
Interpersonal effectiveness refers to an individual’s ability to interact with other people, from basic communication to long-term relationships. DBT aims to help individuals express themselves more clearly, assert their needs, set boundaries, negotiate conflict, and preserve relationships. These skills are extremely valuable in one’s personal life and can also be key to doing well in the workplace.
What Are the Benefits of DBT Therapy?
Dialectical behavioral therapy teaches skills that help with emotional regulation, interacting with others, dealing with distress, and remaining present and aware. It helps individuals to manage intense feelings, reduce impulsive behaviors, navigate relationships, and take a more mindful approach to life.
Benefits of DBT may include:
- Improved resilience in the face of stress and change
- A greater feeling of being in control of oneself and one’s life
- Better relationships at home and at work
- The ability to adapt more readily to change
- Improved self-esteem
- Reduced self-harm and suicidal ideation
- Development of a support system
- Learning new skills in a group setting
DBT Is Used to Treat a Variety of Conditions
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy may have originally been developed as a treatment for borderline personality disorder, but it can also be used for a number of other conditions.
Other things DBT can be used for include:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance use disorder
- Bulimia and binge eating disorder
Because of its strong focus on managing intense feelings and tackling behaviors, DBT is especially helpful in cases where multiple disorders coexist. While each diagnosis has its own unique struggles, things like mindfulness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness are basic human skills that benefit all kinds of conditions.
The Role of DBT in Addiction Treatment
Dialectical behavioral therapy is a valuable tool in addiction treatment as it helps address the emotional fluctuations and impulsive tendencies that can lead to substance use disorders. For many people, a drug or alcohol addiction also occurs alongside one or more mental health conditions. In such cases, DBT can be combined with other methods (cognitive behavioral therapy, life skills training, etc.) to significantly improve overall symptoms and challenges.
At Adelante Recovery Center, our expert therapists use DBT techniques to help individuals improve their lives and increase their resilience. Every client receives an individualized addiction treatment plan to address their unique needs and set them up for lasting success.
Contact us today to find out how we can help you overcome addiction and create a better life.