What Are the Techniques of Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

It often seems like each approach to therapy is pretty much the same. Sitting down with a counselor is relatively similar, right?

In fact, there are a number of different methods used in therapy which address different mental illnesses and yield different results.

We’re going to discuss the dialectical therapy in this article. The dialectical behavior therapy skills used in sessions were designed to treat dissociative disorders but can apply generally to a number of different mental illnesses.

What Can Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Do?

When you go to DBT sessions, the goal is that you leave with a greater understanding of yourself and ways to manage your thoughts and emotions. In other words, you gain skills.

We’ll cover some of the skills that you might leave with, in addition to how they could benefit you in life.

First, though, we should cover a little more about DBT.

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

DBT is a form of therapy that serves as a specific piece of another. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a larger umbrella of mental health treatment which encompasses dialectical behavioral therapy.

CBT was created using principles of humanism and cognitive psychology. The principle tenet of CBT is the challenging of cognitive distortions which can manifest in our thoughts, behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs.

In other words, the therapy seeks to correct the mistakes in your thinking that could be contributing to the existence of the mental illness. This can be difficult, as we’re often very attached to our wrong perceptions about life and cling to them very tightly.

The process is amplified if the patient is using drugs or alcohol to cope. Losing those wrong perceptions and replacing them with correct ones is often a lot more complicated than it seems.

DBT Is an Off-branch of CBT

Dialectical behavior therapy does address cognitive distortions and try to correct them but it does it in a particular way. The therapy was created in the late 80s for patients who were chronically suicidal or showed signs of dissociative disorders.

It seeks to teach people about the triggers that send their mental and emotional states into disaccord as well as how to regulate emotions when those triggers arise. Four skills are primarily used in this process, and they will be the focus of the rest of the article.

Let’s take a look at those skills:

1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a Buddhist idea that refers to the present awareness of one’s thoughts, breath, body, and feelings from moment to moment.

As it pertains to therapy, mindfulness is extremely helpful in allowing us to notice and understand what we’re feeling and why we’re feeling that way. Times of emotional stress is often triggered by an event or thought, and it’s our responsibility to notice those triggers.

Mindfulness is one of the best-known methods of achieving the awareness needed to understand your triggers. Additionally, mindfulness poses a number of benefits for calming anxiety and changing toward a more positive outlook on life.

2. Acceptance and Change

Acceptance and change are early pieces of the DBT process. After the therapist and the patient establish a rapport, they can start to work on acceptance and change.

Acceptance can apply to a number of things. First and foremost, the acceptance that there is a mental illness and distorted perceptions about reality. It can be very difficult to accept that your own perceptions are false and you need to work on them.

Further, truly accepting and embracing yourself in the face of mental illness is difficult, too. It’s the counselor’s job to work toward radical acceptance. After that point, the patient and counselor will work toward establishing a path toward change.

3. “What” Skills

These skills allow you to look objectively at a situation and come to peace with it. The skills are observance, description, and participation. These are skills that we all have to some degree, but DBT works with us on refining those skills.

Observance refers to the process of looking at an environment with nonjudgement and allowing it to be what it is. This skill allows people to see outside of themselves and avoid distractions that come from our own thoughts and perceptions.

It is often our attachments to thoughts and perceptions that prevent us from healing in the first place. A description is a process of talking about your environment or thoughts in a similarly non-judgemental way.

Participation comes as a result of observance and description. Once a person can be mindfully in a place without attaching negative perceptions onto the situation, they can begin to participate.

Working through therapy will allow you to develop these skills by talking about situations, how you perceived them, and how you could have taken on a more objective perception of the situation.

4. Ability to Manage Emotions

The ability to manage our emotions comes after we’ve developed the other skills listed above. Over time, the patient should be able to mindfully go about their day, experiencing and participating in life without being jerked in hundreds of directions by their mental illness.

Not all patients will come to complete healing, but the skills needed to manage mental illness are in place. The skill set that comes with being a truly mindful person is one that can greatly help us deal with mental illness.

In many ways, DBT is another form of Buddhist mindfulness training. While the process and intended result are different, the main principles of training are the same.

We’re seeking to be aware of our thoughts, emotions, situations, and behaviors, then approach those things in a more objective and positive way. Gradually, performing those behaviors will improve our quality of life.

Sound like Something That Could Help?

We all could use a few dialectical behavior therapy skills. That said, not all of us need to go to therapy, but some do.

If you or a loved one is experiencing mental illness and could use DBT, contact us to learn more about moving forward.

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