Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a very effective form of therapy that helps individuals learn the skills and strategies needed for a life worth living. It was originally developed as a method of treating people who were struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) who had suicidal tendencies or self-harming behaviors.
DBT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which strives to identify negative or ineffective thinking patterns so a person can work toward change. It’s called “dialectical” because it uses the seemingly opposing concepts of acceptance and change and the belief that using both ideas together is better than using either alone.
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Mental Health Issues That Can Be Improved with DBT
Borderline personality disorder is an example of a mental illness that can be very difficult to treat. It can be even more difficult to treat BPD when it is diagnosed along with other conditions, such as substance use disorder, bipolar disorder, or depression. Other conditions that may be improved with DBT include:
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse and addictive behaviors
- Self-harming behavior
- Suicidal urges
- Treatment resistant major depression
DBT has been found to be helpful for treating many different conditions that involve difficulty regulating emotions, as well as unstable relationships or impulsive behaviors. DBT can bring about improvement for people who have complex and severe disorders that may seem hopeless and usually resist treatment. Evidence that DBT is helpful is seen in reduced suicidal behavior, reduced hospital visits and inpatient stays, improved social functioning and in being less likely to drop out of treatment.
Why DBT Works
Many of the problems that mentally ill people struggle with are related to the fact that there are skills deficits. For example, people with BPD don’t have the skills they need to regulate their emotions or to stop periods of intense anger or excessively negative thinking. Those who cope with volatile emotions by turning to substances or to binge eating need to learn new coping skills to interrupt the pattern of these self-destructive behaviors.
DBT works better than other treatment approaches for some people because it is so structured. The approach to treatment is based on the severity of the individual’s distress, and the mental health professional can plan a treatment program based on stages of treatment as follows:
- Stage 1 – The person is very distressed and experiencing self-destructive, self-harming or suicidal behavior, and emotions are extremely out of control. The focus of this stage is getting behavioral control.
- Stage 2 – Behavior is under control, but there is still a lot of emotional pain. Past trauma needs to be addressed at this point and unhealthy thinking patterns identified.
- Stage 3 – Goals are set, new skills are being learned and the focus is on improved relationships and self-esteem.
- Stage 4 – In this stage, the person moves toward joy and healthier relationships. For some people, this includes finding a deeper meaning through spiritual experiences. The goal of this stage is to move past any sense of incompleteness.
Committed to a Life Worth Living
With DBT, life skills are learned and enhanced, which include mindfulness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness. Getting past the challenges of ineffective thinking patterns and emotional extremes requires being truly committed to changing behaviors that are clearly not working. This is done using an intense, structured program that includes both individual and group therapy as well as remaining in contact with the DBT therapist whenever needed.
During DBT treatment, a person will be expected to do homework and practice new skills, which includes tracking emotions and behaviors. The amount of focus and effort required can ultimately lead to true transformation. When a person is ready to change and truly committed to a life work living, DBT can be a very effective form of treatment.
For more information about our DBT treatment programs in Los Angeles, call (310) 455-5258 or submit the form below and a treatment advisor will contact you.