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What is DBT?

DBT is a “third wave” CBT. This means it has its roots in traditional CBT, it is concerned with the same elements as CBT i.e. Thoughts (Cognitions), Behaviours, Physiology and emotions but it also focuses on the process of thinking and our relationship to our thoughts. DBT was invented by Marsha Linehan in the 1980s in Seattle. She found that traditional CBT wasn’t always effective in treating clients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Marsha Linehan wrote an article in the New York Times stating she had experienced BPD and spent time as an inpatient in psychiatric wards when she was younger. She uses the techniques and skills that are learned in DBT.

How can DBT help?

Some people’s lives can feel unbearable. DBT works to decrease emotional suffering and help build a life worth living. So DBT teaches specific practical skills in order to help people deal more effectively with themselves and the world around them. DBT focuses on the present, the here and now.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BDP) is the American term and Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD) is the term used in Europe. They have different names as American and Europe use different classification manuals. 

People who receive DBT typically have several difficulties including experiencing intense emotions, unstable relationships and chronic and severe suicidal and self-harming behaviours that require treatment.

How is DBT used?

Usually DBT is around a year long.  There are three components to the therapy: Weekly Skills group, where you learn coping skills; Weekly Individual sessions, where you complete an analysis of unhelpful behaviour; Telephone coaching, where your therapist can coach though using the skills you have learned in the moment. 

DBT is based on a combination of both acceptance and change strategies, which together increase more helpful and adaptive behaviour. The ‘dialectical’ part of the therapy is about exploring and holding different points of view. It assumes that in any given situation there is no one single truth and we must work to find the “middle path” or synthesis.

Four modules of skills are taught: 

– Core Mindfulness: A way of being that helps you focus your attention and live your life in the present, rather than being distracted by worries about the past or the future.

– Interpersonal Effectiveness: Learning how to get your needs met and dealing with conflict in relationships, whilst maintaining your self-respect.

– Emotion Regulation: Learning skills to help you to manage intense emotional states and destructive behaviour like self-harm.

– Distress Tolerance: Tolerating and surviving crises and accepting life as it is at the moment. 

At Oxford CBT we offer DBT informed therapy with individual sessions only.

Get in touch to find out if DBT therapy could help you take control of your mental health.

We provide courses in mental health for business.


This article has been written by Alice Cochrane


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