Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is an important part of the treatment of most forms of mental illness. The goal of all talk therapy is to allow a person with mental health challenges to talk with a mental health professional in a safe and confidential environment and to gain new coping skills and insights.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are two of the most commonly used forms of talk therapy, and both have been found to be effective in treating mental illness. CBT and DBT are similar in some ways, but the differences between the two may make one the therapy of choice in certain situations more so than the other.
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What is CBT?
CBT focuses on how thoughts affect feelings. The principles behind CBT recognize that learned patterns of unhelpful behavior can lead to psychological challenges and that it’s possible to replace this behavior with new ways of thinking and behaving. This type of therapy can be very effective in treating depression, anxiety disorders, substance use disorder, eating disorders and severe mental illness.
In CBT, patients work closely with the therapist to uncover thought patterns that may be causing self-destructive or unhealthy behaviors. They learn to pay attention to their thoughts and the beliefs behind the thoughts, and to examine whether their beliefs and thoughts are true or helpful.
CBT is usually a short-term technique that focuses on a specific problem. It’s a goal-oriented approach that aims to deal with challenges occurring in the present rather than looking at things that have happened in the past.
People in CBT therapy work closely with the therapist and usually do homework between sessions. As more beneficial ways of thinking and behaving are learned, better coping skills are developed along with an improved ability to face life’s challenges.
What is DBT?
DBT is a modified form of CBT that was developed to treat borderline personality disorder, particularly individuals with suicidal thoughts and actions. It has been found to be effective in treating other forms of mental illness as well. DBT focuses on skills such as mindfulness, distress tolerance, regulation of emotions and managing relationships.
In DBT, patients recognize and examine negative thoughts but also work to accept them. This form of psychotherapy involves balancing things that appear to be opposite, specifically acceptance and change. The patient and therapist work closely together to resolve the seeming contradiction between acceptance and change.
Patients who are in DBT treatment participate in weekly individual therapy sessions. They also participate in group behavioral skills training a few hours each week. Between sessions, they’ll work on homework to practice skills and can use phone coaching by calling their therapist to discuss any challenging situations that come up during the week.
The goal of this form of treatment is to transform destructive behaviors and negative thinking into positive outcomes. Learned skills can help patients regulate their emotions and better cope with stressful situations, so they can enjoy a better quality of life.
Main Differences Between CBT and DBT
Both CBT and DBT involve learning how thoughts affect feelings and behaviors in the present rather than exploring things that happened in the past. DBT adds emphasis on accepting uncomfortable feelings or thoughts instead of then struggling with them.
CBT is usually done on a short-term basis with a specific goal in mind and involves meeting one-on-one with a therapist. DBT has a broader focus and involves not only regular meetings with the therapist on an individual basis but also group skills sessions and contact with the therapist between sessions.
Both forms of therapy work toward identifying and modifying self-defeating thought patterns, and both often involve homework between sessions to work on new skills. DBT is a more structured form of therapy in which individuals learn new skills from four modules. These include:
- Emotional regulation
- Distress tolerance
- Interpersonal effectiveness
The emphasis on acceptance and validation in DBT can help build trust with the therapist, and for some people this approach makes them less likely to quit therapy. It’s especially effective in helping people who are suicidal or tend to use self-harming behavior.
Choosing a Method of Treatment
Each person with mental illness faces unique challenges, and many of these challenges that seem insurmountable can greatly improve by committing to treatment with psychotherapy. Both CBT and DBT are effective in treating a wide range of mental health disorders.
Different forms of mental illness may respond differently to each treatment technique, and if one seems not to be as effective as was hoped, the therapist may recommend trying a different technique. The determination of whether CBT or DBT is the best approach for you is best made by talking to your doctor or working with a trained and experienced therapist.
If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health disorders like substance abuse, depression, anxiety, or trauma, please call us at (310) 455-5258 or submit the form below to learn more about our treatment programs in Los Angeles.