What is DBT?

Mental Health and Wellness
What is DBT?


Do you ever have difficulty relaxing? Do you find it hard to manage your emotions at times? Do you seek to “live a life worth living?" If so, then there may be some helpful techniques for you from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)!

What is dialectical behavioral therapy? This type of cognitive behavioral therapy was designed by Marsha Linehan in the 1990s and since then has been widely and broadly used because of its universal concept.

One central concept of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is the idea of the “dialectical,” which is that a person can sit with two very opposing emotions or thoughts and that both can be true rather than being in opposition.

A person can completely accept who he is and still work hard towards positive change! When we are constantly punishing and berating ourselves in our thoughts, this can cause emotional and physical distress, and we may get stuck in a cycle where we are stuck in place due to this negative thinking. DBT advocates for people to reframe this thinking towards acceptance while still working towards self-improvement.

We may want to reach this state of self-acceptance and ongoing self-improvement, but how? DBT also offers some concrete skills and concepts to utilize to help with this process.

To help make good decisions:

Wise Mind: The idea of wise mind is that we have two main states of mind, our emotional mind and our reasonable mind. When we approach a situation, we may respond primarily emotionally where our feelings may drive our thoughts and behavior. We may react impulsively. Our reasonable mind would approach a situation intellectually, and would use facts and concrete information to drive our behavior. Some people exist mainly in one of these approaches. However, in DBT there is the “wise mind,” or seeking to use the strengths from both the emotional and the reasonable mind. Wise mind recognizes our emotions and validates them, while also listening to our reasonable mind to help us make decisions.

To help in relationships:

D.E.A.R. M.A.N.: In relationships, it is important to assert your own needs while also respecting the needs of other person. An imbalance in a relationship is often when one person is not getting what he or she needs. This technique helps an individual to advocate for him or herself while respecting the needs of others.

When approaching a given situation with a loved one, DEARMAN can help!

D: Describe clearly and very specifically what you want.

E: Express. Explain how the situation makes you feel. Use this sentence structure:  I feel_____ because ______.

A: Assert. Don’t beat around the bush.

R: Reinforce. Thank the other person for listening to your perspective.

M: Mindful. Sometimes we can get sidetracked in emotional conversations. Remember to stay on topic.

A: Appear. Remember to consider your body language including tone of voice and posture. Your body language can help you to convey your confidence in what you are saying.

N: Negotiate. Listen to what the other person is saying and be willing to compromise if necessary.

To help manage distress:

Radical Acceptance: When confronted with a disappointment like not getting a job you wanted or a conflict with a family member, we may be inclined towards blaming ourselves or others, anger towards the situation, and other distressful emotions and stress responses. The concept of radical acceptance is the effort to accept the situation as it is, even though this may be difficult. For example, for someone who didn’t get a job, rather than, “That wasn’t fair! They didn’t even give me a chance!,” radically accepting the situation would lead a person to think, “It is frustrating that I didn’t get the job, but I must not have been the best fit.” (source: therapist aid)

Activating senses to self-soothe: Sometimes when we are in overwhelming situations it can be difficult to manage distressing thoughts and emotions. The concept of activating senses can help a person to engage in mindfulness by focusing on each of the senses and considering what you are seeing, smelling, feeling, tasting and hearing. Redirecting the brain towards our senses can help to calm the body and the mind.

These techniques can help a person to make decisions, accept herself, communicate more effectively with others and manage distressing emotions.

“Radical Acceptance rests on letting go of the illusion of control and a willingness to notice and accept things as they are right now, without judging” –Marsha Linehan