Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Science-backed benefits of DBT

DBT is the only empirically supported treatment for borderline personality disorder.

Research-backed benefits of DBT for individuals with BPD include:

  • Reducing suicidal behaviors

  • Reducing hospitalizations related to mental health

  • Higher rates of adherence to mental-health treatment than other treatment

“In our DBT work, even clients who don’t finish the program benefit based on improvement in borderline symptom checklist scores,” says DBT therapist Lara Ashbaugh, MS, LPC, NCC. 

DBT is also effective in treating other mental health disorders including:

  • Substance-use disorders

  • Eating disorders (including binge eating, bulimia nervosa, and anorexia nervosa)

  • Bipolar disorder 

  • Depression

  • PTSD

What are the 4 DBT skills you’ll learn in therapy?

Much of the work in a DBT program is focused on skill development, so let’s find out what they are and how they are helpful.

The 4 DBT skills, also called DBT modules, are:

  • Mindfulness

  • Interpersonal effectiveness

  • Emotion regulation

  • Distress tolerance

"Although it may take a bit of time and a great deal of practice to master DBT skills, the outcome of clients being able to self-regulate, improve relationships, and deal with life is immeasurable," says DBT therapist Ellen Biros, MS, LCSW, C-PD.

Mindfulness

Each of the core DBT skills modules builds on mindfulness. 

Mindfulness is defined as our ability to be fully present—essentially it’s the mental state of intentional awareness of the here and now. 

The wise mind combines both the logical and emotional parts of our minds.

When we’re mindful, we focus on the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that arise in the present moment. 

Mindfulness education teaches the concept of the wise mind. 

The wise mind combines both the logical and emotional parts of our minds. If we’re using a wise mind, we’re aware of the benefits of our brains’ reasoning and emotional parts. 

As a result, we can intuitively take the middle path to remain calm in situations and interactions with others. 

Interpersonal Effectiveness

If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to respect yourself and relate to others better, DBT interpersonal effectiveness skills can help. 

When we learn interpersonal effectiveness skills, we respect ourselves, assert what we need, and better set effective boundaries.

We also remain more open to others' thoughts, opinions, and perspectives. 

Emotion Regulation

You may sometimes feel like your emotions have taken the driver’s seat, causing you distress and difficulty in making rational, healthy choices. 

When we work on learning emotion regulation skills, we can regain control of our emotions. 

Additionally, emotion regulation skills teach us more about the function of emotions and helps us in assessing whether we should interact with an emotion or apply an opposing action. 

If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to respect yourself and relate to others better, DBT interpersonal effectiveness skills can help. 

2021 research published in Psychotherapy Research examined the impact of DBT skills group on emotion regulation in 136 individuals and found that each of the four skills training modules were associated with emotion regulation improvements. 

 

Distress Tolerance 

If you find yourself in crisis or in situations where you have trouble pinpointing or acknowledging reality, DBT distress tolerance skills can benefit you. 

Distress tolerance skills teach us how to accept uncomfortable emotions and painful truths that are tough to face. 

A key component of distress tolerance is the concept of radical acceptance. 

These particular skills also help us become more aware of our bodies and five senses.

Learning distress tolerance skills can help us implement self-soothing techniques when we feel overwhelmed. 

A key component of distress tolerance is the concept of radical acceptance. 

Radical acceptance means we accept our thoughts and feelings as they are—without attempting to change them. 

This type of acceptance can help us to recognize the reality that there are times when unpleasant emotions can’t be changed. And it can also free us from suffering by allowing us to accept the feeling. 

Radical acceptance does not mean we approve of the situation or uncomfortable reality. It simply means that we don’t allow our pain to make us stuck.