DBT Therapy, Conditions to Treat, The 5 Functions of DBT, Benefits & Mental Health Treatment

What is DBT Therapy? Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a comprehensive, evidence-based treatment originally created to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD). The patient populations for which DBT therapy has the most empirical support include parasuicidal women with BPD, but there have been promising findings for patients with BPD and substance use disorders (SUDs) or alcohol use disorder (AUD), persons […]

What is DBT Therapy?

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a comprehensive, evidence-based treatment originally created to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD). The patient populations for which DBT therapy has the most empirical support include parasuicidal women with BPD, but there have been promising findings for patients with BPD and substance use disorders (SUDs) or alcohol use disorder (AUD), persons who meet the criteria for binge-eating disorder, and depressed elderly patients.

Although DBT therapy has many similarities with other cognitive-behavioral approaches, several critical and unique elements must be in place for the treatment to constitute DBT. Some of these elements include (a) serving the five functions of treatment, (b) the biosocial theory and focusing on emotions in treatment, (c) a consistent dialectical philosophy, and (d) mindfulness and acceptance-oriented interventions.

 DBT Therapy
DBT therapy is a comprehensive program consisting of individual therapy, group therapy, and a therapist consultation team.

What Does DBT Treat?

In deciding whether to use DBT therapy or other treatments for a particular patient, one key deciding factor is the research data on the treatment with patients that are similar in terms of problem areas, diagnoses, or characteristics to the patient in question.

  • Parasuicidal patients with BPD. For parasuicidal borderline personality disorder (BPD) patients, the most consistent finding is that DBT results in superior reductions in parasuicidal behavior compared with control conditions. 
  • Women with BPD and substance use disorders. The second patient group for which DBT therapy has demonstrated promising data consists of women with dual diagnosis or BPD and a substance use disorder (SUD). 
  • Other clinical populations and problems. Additionally, some research has examined DBT-oriented treatments for other clinical problems, including eating disorders and depression in elderly patients. 

How Does DBT Work?

DBT therapy is a comprehensive program of mental health treatment consisting of individual therapy, group therapy, and a therapist consultation team. In this way, DBT therapy is a program of treatment, rather than a single treatment method conducted by a practitioner in isolation. Often, clinicians are interested in applying DBT therapy but find the prospect of implementing such a comprehensive treatment to be daunting.

In this case, it is important to remember that the most critical element of any DBT therapy program has to do with whether it addresses five key functions of treatment. Although the standard package of DBT therapy has the most empirical support, different settings and circumstances may necessitate innovative and creative applications of DBT. In all cases, however, an adaptation of DBT therapy must fulfill the following five functions:

 DBT Therapy
DBT can also treat women with dual diagnosis or BPD and a substance use disorder (SUD). 

Function #1: Enhancing capabilities

Within DBT therapy, the assumption is that patients with BPD or borderline personality disorder either lack or need to improve several important life skills, including those that involve:

  • Regulating emotions (emotion regulation skills)
  • Paying attention to the experience of the present moment and regulating attention (mindfulness skills)
  • Effectively navigating interpersonal situations (interpersonal effectiveness)
  • Tolerating distress and surviving crises without making situations worse (distress tolerance skills)

As such, improving skills constitutes one of the key functions of DBT. This function usually is accomplished through a weekly skills group session, consisting of approximately 4 to 10 individuals and involving didactics, active practice, discussion of new skills, as well as homework assignments to help patients practice skills between sessions.

Function #2: Generalizing capabilities

If the skills learned in therapy sessions do not transfer to patients’ daily lives, then it would be difficult to say that therapy was successful. As a result, a second critical function of DBT involves generalizing treatment gains to the patient’s natural environment. This function is accomplished in skills training by providing homework assignments to practice skills and troubleshooting regarding how to improve upon skills practice.

In individual therapy sessions, therapists help patients apply new skills in their daily lives and often have patients practice or apply skillful behaviors in session. In addition, the therapist is available by phone between sessions to help the patient apply skills when they are most needed (e.g., in a crisis).

Function #3: Improving motivation and reducing dysfunctional behaviors

The third function of DBT therapy involves improving patients’ motivation to change and reducing behaviors inconsistent with a life worth living. This function primarily is accomplished in individual therapy. Each week, the therapist has the patient complete a self-monitoring form (called a “diary card”) on which he or she tracks various treatment targets (e.g., self-harm, suicide attempts, emotional misery).

The therapist uses this diary card to prioritize session time, giving behaviors that threaten the patient’s life (e.g., suicidal or self-injurious behaviors) highest priority, followed by behaviors that interfere with therapy (e.g., absence, lateness, noncollaborative behavior), and behaviors that interfere with the patient’s quality of life (e.g., severe problems in living, unemployment, or severe problems related to mental health disorders).

After prioritizing the behavioral targets for a given session, the therapist helps the patient figure out what led up to the behavior(s) in question and the consequences that may be reinforcing or maintaining the behavior(s). The therapist also helps the patient find ways to apply skillful, effective behavior, solve problems in life, or regulate emotions. In terms of enhancing motivation, the therapist actively works to get the patient to commit to behavior change, using a variety of “commitment” strategies.

Function #4: Enhancing and maintaining therapist capabilities and motivation 

Another important function of DBT therapy involves maintaining the motivation and skills of the therapists who treat patients with BPD. Although helping multiproblematic BPD patients can be stimulating and rewarding, these patients also engage in a potent mix of behaviors that can tax the coping resources, competencies, and resolve of their treatment providers (i.e., suicide attempts, repeated suicidal crises, behaviors that interfere with therapy).

As a result, one essential ingredient of an effective treatment for BPD patients is a system of providing support, validation, continued training and skill-building, feedback, and encouragement to therapists.

To address this function, standard DBT includes a therapist consultation-team meeting, for which DBT therapists meet once per week for approximately 1 to 2 hours. The team helps therapists problem-solve ways to implement effective treatment in the face of specific clinical challenges (e.g., a suicidal patient, a patient who misses sessions). In addition, the team encourages therapists to maintain a compassionate, nonjudgmental orientation toward their patients; monitors and helps reduce therapist burnout; provide support and encouragement, and sometimes employs structured training/didactics on specific therapeutic skills.

Function #5: Structuring the environment 

An important function of DBT involves structuring the environment in a manner that reinforces effective behavior/progress and does not reinforce maladaptive or problematic behavior. Often, this involves structuring the treatment in a manner that most effectively promotes progress. Typically, in DBT, the individual therapist is the primary therapist and is “in charge” of the treatment team. He or she makes sure that all of the elements of effective treatment are in place, and that all of these functions are met.

What are the Six Main Points of Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

DBT treatment is based upon six main points extracted from CBT therapy. The medical treatment was developed in the late 1980s by psychologist Marsh M. Lineham, the theory behind the treatment was initially used to treat an individual with a borderline personality disorder and chronically suicidal individuals. However, the treatment has been slightly adapted to treat a variety of other mental health disorders successfully. The skills and the six main points in dialectical behavior therapy include:

  • DBT is still an evolving medical treatment that will hopefully be used to treat other mental health issues. The therapy evolved into a process in which the client and the medical professional will work one to one to help the patient learn skills such as:
  • Acceptance of situations 
  • Change oriented strategies 
  • Emotions regulation 
  • Distress tolerance
  • Interpersonal effectiveness
 DBT Therapy
DBT treatment is based upon six main points extracted from Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.

Patients will be medically reviewed every three weeks by the consultation team to ensure the DBT skills are sufficient for the specific individual.

Benefits of DBT

DBT helps patients to become less judgemental. When they take a non-judgemental stance on the world around them, they’re less likely to be governed by negative emotions. This type of therapy can also reduce suicidal and other destructive behaviors. Patients who completed the program can form stronger relationships.

How Can I Find a DBT Therapy Near Me?

We Level Up Washington is a multi-faceted primary mental health disorder dual diagnosis center that also treats secondary co-occurring substance abuse disorders. Our team uses evidence-based proven methods to generate cutting-edge solutions to substance abuse and behavioral health challenges. With support programs targeted toward families and individuals.

We work to improve the health of the public and individuals from every behavioral and related integrated mental health primary and addiction secondary treatment option. This includes constant research and innovation on substance abuse and integrated co-occurring mental health treatment models paired with individuals in a conducive environment.

Reclaim Your Life with DBT Therapy

Substance use disorder is a condition that can cause major health, social, and economic problems that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up Washington center can provide you, or someone you love, DBT Therapy with professional and safe care. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.