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Demystifying Dialectical Behavioural Therapy or “DBT”


By now, many of you may or may not have heard of a recently popular therapy known as DBT, or Dialectical Behavioural Therapy.


Often confused by its sister therapies CBT and ACT, DBT is a therapy initially designed to treat borderline personality disorder. Yet, DBT has expanded to serve many other uses and is a frequently used evidence-based treatment for various common challenges.


So, what exactly is DBT?


DBT is a cognitive behavioural, solution-focused therapy that focuses on developing various skills. While many other psychotherapies may focus on our early childhood, DBT focuses on how individuals can better cope with the here and now. In full format, DBT was designed to include individual sessions, group skills training, and in-the-moment crisis support from trained DBT coaches or therapists. However, therapists may not offer the entire format of DBT, but instead use DBT skills during individual sessions. Depending on the client need, a therapist may draw from any four of the DBT modules including mindfulness skills, relationship skills, emotion management skills, and crisis skills. As a skills-focused therapy, DBT offers individuals tangible ways to implement tools in their daily lives. Beyond talking about the emotions or thoughts challenging you, DBT provides practical skills to take home and manage your emotional distress in the moment.


What can DBT help with?


In the research, DBT is considered an effective treatment for several challenges people may face. Some common uses for DBT include anxiety, depression, self-harm, substance misuse, borderline personality disorder, and suicidality. In addition, DBT skills can be used for the daily improvement of communication, assertiveness, people-pleasing, building empathy for others, managing stress and overwhelm, impulsive behaviours, improving self-esteem, managing anger, relationship challenges, and emotion regulation.


What else should I know about DBT?


DBT emphasizes the benefit of changing one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviours and the value of accepting and validating them. Based on the principles of mindfulness, DBT recognizes the “dialect” of life (hence the D for dialectical in DBT), meaning that two seemingly opposing factors can both be true simultaneously. That is, we can want to change our lives, and at the same time, we can validate our current experience as it is.


Also, DBT largely emphasizes the value of our emotions. DBT believes that our emotions are valid, but sometimes we need to learn how to manage and use them more effectively. From teaching us how to understand our emotions to how to regulate our emotions physiologically, DBT largely focuses on emotions. Physiologically, DBT can offer tips and tricks to help us better physically prepare ourselves to manage emotional distress.


Lastly, DBT has a significant focus on interpersonal relationships. Socially, DBT helps us learn important relationship-building and maintaining skills such as how to assert ourselves, negotiate what we want, how to consider the needs and wants of others, and how to communicate more effectively.




Marissa Whalley, MC, is DBT Level 2 accredited and offers individual sessions for those looking to learn DBT skills to manage their emotional overwhelm more effectively. If you are interested in learning more about Marissa or her approach to therapy, please click here to link to her full bio page.