Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Managing Interpersonal Relationships
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a type of psychotherapy that helps to modify unhelpful thoughts, emotions and behaviors. DBT was originally created in order to treat people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) who were chronically suicidal. It’s a variation of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and it has been found to be effective not only in treating BPD but also in treating a variety of other conditions including eating disorders, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder and substance use disorder.
DBT provides the skills needed to decrease conflict in relationships and to manage painful emotions. Interpersonal relationships can improve as you learn to communicate openly and be less reactive to what others say and do.
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Relationship Challenges in Borderline Personality Disorder
Problems with interpersonal relationships can happen to anyone, but some people, particularly those with BPD react with intense emotions in their interactions with others. Borderline personality disorder is characterized by seeing everything in black-and-white terms, which can lead to intense reactions to conflict or disagreements in relationships.
People with BPD experience a lot of conflict in their relationships because of seemingly uncontrollable negative emotions. Other characteristics of BPD that can lead to relationship challenges include:
- Intense fear of abandonment
- Highly impulsive behaviors
- Extreme emotional reactions that can last from several hours to several days
- Fragile sense of self
- Mood swings
How Does DBT Work?
Treatment with DBT involves individual therapy sessions as well as DBT skills groups. A therapist who is specially trained in DBT will help you to stay motivated, address obstacles that may come up while you’re in treatment and will help you apply DBT skills to your everyday life and relationships.
DBT consists of four modules:
- Mindfulness – learning awareness and acceptance of the present moment; the ability to focus on just one thing without judgement
- Distress tolerance – learning to tolerate and survive upsetting experiences and emotional crises and to accept yourself and the current situation in a nonjudgmental way
- Emotional regulation – learning to identify emotions and using skills daily to regulate them
- Interpersonal effectiveness – learning important skills such as asking for what you want or being more assertive in saying no when appropriate or coping with conflict
Improving Relationship Skills with DBT
The term “dialectical” refers to finding a balance in opposing forces. Difficulties in relationships are often caused by black-and-white thinking such as not being able to grasp that good people sometimes do bad or hurtful things.
DBT teaches the skills necessary to help you to think dialectically. Extreme opposite views of other people or the world around you can cause turbulent feelings and create unrealistic expectations of others. Using DBT, you can improve your ability to gain your objectives while maintaining relationships and self-respect.
DBT Skills for Improving Relationships
Improving your ability to relate to others takes time and practice. In DBT therapy sessions and skills groups, you’ll learn skills to better understand relationships, your needs within relationships, and ways to effectively get your needs met while also preserving relationships that are important to you.
Outside DBT sessions, you’ll have homework assignments involving skills that you should focus on. You’ll be able to put into practice the skills you are learning in your important relationships. In both work and home settings, you can practice describing what you want, expressing your feelings and considering how your body language can help you to appear more confident. You’ll work on being open to negotiation in your relationships.
As you practice the skills learned in DBT, gradually your ability to relate to others will improve. You’ll start to be able to better communicate your needs and avoid hoping others will read your mind. You’ll also improve your ability to consider the feelings of others which can help preserve your relationships.
If you or a loved one could benefit from DBT skills and groups, please call us at (866) 339-3544 or submit the form below to learn more about our programs in Los Angeles.
Since 2004, Lori has worked with the behavioral health treatment community to bring awareness about mental health disorders and evidence-based treatments. Lori strives to help people better understand mental illness and provide support to those needing help and their families. As a mental health advocate, Lori works to be a voice for those suffering from substance abuse, dual diagnosis, borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, trauma, or any other disorder.