You can’t stop the WAVES but you can learn to SURF
— Jon Kabat-Zinn

What is DBT?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based treatment that helps individuals who are biologically and environmentally predisposed to emotional vulnerability. Individuals with emotional vulnerability often have high sensitivity and quick reactivity to emotional situations, may react to emotional situations with ineffective or extreme responses, and often require a longer period of time to return back to baseline. This reactivity may contribute to a higher sensitivity to the next event and create what may feel like an emotional roller coaster or constant state of crisis leaving them feeling out of control and hopeless.

The inability to regulate intense emotions can result in difficulties stopping ineffective behaviors or organizing action to achieve goals when emotions are high, trouble self-soothing, challenges refocusing attention when strong emotions are present, inability managing social interactions, lack of awareness of social cues and information, and maladaptive responses to other’s expressions of emotions.

Ultimately, these intense emotions may lead to avoidant behaviors, crisis generation, self-destructive patterns of thoughts and behaviors, problems in initiating or maintaining relationships, achieving personal, academic, or professional goals, attending to daily life stressors, productivity, identity development, and overall life satisfaction.

DBT is more than just another method of psychotherapy used by treatment centers and therapists. DBT was developed in the 1970s by Marsha Linehan as a way to treat the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The therapy, a modification of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), was designed to help people engaging in self-endangering behaviors such as cutting, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.

DBT has been thoroughly researched in numerous clinical trials and has proven to be effective with a variety of psychiatric disorders and life problems (Neacsiu et al., 2010Neacsiu et al., 2014; Axelrod et al., 2011; Berking et al., 2009; Kramer et al., 2015). DBT has been expanded to treat the following issues:

  • Borderline personality disorder, including those with co-occurring:

    • Suicidal and self-harming behavior

    • Substance use disorder

    • Posttraumatic stress disorder

    • High irritability

  • Personality Disorders

  • Self-harming individuals with personality disorder

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder related to childhood sexual abuse

  • Major depression, including:

    • Treatment resistant major depression

    • Older adults with chronic depression and one or more personality disorders

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Transdiagnostic emotion dysregulation

  • Suicidal and self-harming adolescents

  • Adolescent children with severe emotional and behavioral dysregulation

  • Eating Disorders

Ultimately, DBT is an evidence-based therapy that can help teach skills to control behaviors, fully experience emotions, solve ordinary life problems, and feel a sense of connection to others and the world.

What does "dialectical" mean?

The term "dialectical" means a synthesis or integration of opposites. The primary dialectic within DBT is between the seemingly opposite strategies of acceptance and change. For example, DBT therapists accept clients as they are while also acknowledging that they need to change in order to reach their goals. In addition, all of the skills and strategies taught in DBT are balanced in terms of acceptance and change. For example, the four skills modules include two sets of acceptance-oriented skills (mindfulness and distress tolerance) and two sets of change-oriented skills (emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness).

Your clinician at Chicago DBT® has been highly trained in the administration of DBT by the treatment's original developers and most respected researchers and trainers.

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.
— Niels Bohr

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When your attention moves into the Now, there is an alertness. It is as if you were waking up from a dream, the dream of thought, the dream of past and future. Such clarity, such simplicity. No room for problem-making. Just this moment as it is.
— Eckhart Tolle