What Is DBT?

What is DBT?

I’ve had several readers ask me what DBT is, and so I thought I’d give a basic primer. (My apologies for not doing so earlier!)

DBT stands for dialectical behavior therapy. It was founded by Dr. Marsha Linehan, a clinical psychologist with personal experience of self-harm and psychiatric distress, and has been shown to be the most effective treatment for borderline personality disorder. DBT has also been used as treatment for issues ranging from substance abuse to eating disorders, and I personally feel everyone can benefit from its concepts.

DBT blends conventional cognitive behavioral therapy with Zen Buddhism and lots of emotional validation. It’s unusual in that it offers practical solutions for situations in which people are experiencing self-harm urges and stormy mood states. Clients study what triggers their own impulses and find more constructive ways of dealing with them, including mindfulness practice.

One of the most helpful tenets of DBT is the belief that clients are doing the best they can given their circumstances. DBT honors the fact that even the most maladaptive coping strategies make sense in the context of a struggling person’s life. These compassionate assumptions provide a foundation for hope — something that is rarely communicated by mental health providers, particularly to people with BPD and those who self-harm.

If you’re interested in finding out more about DBT, including where to find practitioners in your area, a great starting point is Marsha Linehan’s website, Behavioral Tech.

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