Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a comprehensive, cognitive behavioral treatment program developed by Marsha Linehan Ph.D. at the University of Washington to address the extreme moodiness, reckless impulsivity, self-destructive and suicidal behaviors of persons with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or BPD traits. More recently it has been found effective for treating BPD and substance abuse, bulimia nervosa, and elderly and teenage clients, with treatment resistant depression. Its current use has been supported by the National Institutes of Mental Health, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, and various academic centers.
What is Borderline Personality Disorder?
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a complex disorder. Prominent symptoms include suicidal gestures and attempts, self-injury (cutting, burning), aggressive outbursts, impulsivity, and emotional reactivity; all of which typically manifest themselves within the context of interpersonal relationships. There has been an ongoing discussion in psychiatry about whether impulsive aggression, mood changes and emotional vulnerability are at the core of the disorder. DBT assumes that BPD stems from emotional dysregulation in the presence of an invalidating (over critical, judgmental, abusive) environment. When faced with normal emotions like fear, sadness, anger, or joy; individuals with BPD are unable to regulate those emotions effectively. Unregulated emotions that do not become manageable within a reasonable amount of time strongly influence the individual’s interpretations of events and color their interactions with people, leading to chaotic interpersonal relationships, impulsivity, and self-destructive behaviors.
Why the name Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?
The meaning of the word: “dialectical” derives from modern philosophers like Kant and Hegel, who used the term to describe a process of resolving or synthesizing opposites. Linehan applied it to this form of therapy because a fundamental task in DBT is to promote acceptance while simultaneously encouraging change. If the therapy emphasizes only change or acceptance, BPD clients tend to experience it as invalidating their needs and experience. DBT balances the client’s need to avoid pain with a simultaneous effort to accept life as it is.
What are the components of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?
DBT involves individual, group skills training (that consist of a blend of cognitive-behavioral therapy and Zen inspired meditative techniques) phone availability and consultation with a team that offers ongoing support for the therapists imparting the treatment. The essential goals of the therapy include improving the client’s motivation for change, enhancing the person’s capabilities, generalizing new behaviors, and structuring the environment. The Lifeskills outpatient team is part of a DBT consultation that meets regularly.
DBT teaches clients to:
- Be in control of one’s behavior
- Experience emotions fully and avoid emotional “shut downs”
- Build an ordinary life
- Seek completeness through connections to others and searching for meaning in their lives. In substance abusing individuals with BPD (a common association), DBT also focuses on cravings, triggers that lead to relapse and fosters the building of support systems.
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