What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

DBT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that helps people learn skills to manage emotions, improve relationships, and be more mindful.

Originally, psychologists developed DBT to help individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Now, DBT treats multiple mental health conditions and substance abuse disorders (SUDs).

The Four Modules of DBT

DBT uses four main modules to help individuals with addiction and mental health issues tackle common difficulties.


Mindfulness skills are essential in DBT, helping individuals become aware of their thoughts, emotions, and sensations in the present moment. By practicing mindfulness, individuals adopt a nonjudgmental attitude toward their experiences, enhancing their ability to respond effectively to challenging situations and triggers.

Mindfulness practices require individuals to be fully present, empowering them to observe their thoughts and emotions with curiosity and compassion rather than reacting impulsively or becoming overwhelmed.

Common mindfulness practices include:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Body scan
  • Meditation
  • Mindful eating
  • Grounding exercises
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Yoga
  • Acupuncture

Distress Tolerance

Distress tolerance skills are essential in teaching individuals how to endure and manage emotions. These skills may include distraction techniques, self-soothing activities, and crisis survival strategies.

DBT gives people useful ways to handle strong emotions and tough situations. This helps them cope in healthy ways and face difficulties without turning to drugs or harmful actions.

Emotion Regulation

Emotion regulation skills empower individuals to identify, understand, and effectively manage their emotions. These skills help individuals recognize and label emotions, identify triggers, and choose healthy coping mechanisms. By learning to regulate emotions, individuals can reduce the risk of engaging in addictive behaviors as a means of coping with distress, leading to greater emotional stability and well-being.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

Interpersonal effectiveness skills equip individuals with the tools to navigate social interactions, communicate assertively, and build healthy relationships. These skills focus on improving communication, assertiveness, and setting boundaries in relationships.

By learning to communicate their needs and set boundaries, people can improve their relationships, build support networks, and feel less lonely.


While Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) shares many of the same principles as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the most fundamental difference between the two is that CBT addresses how to change behaviors, while DBT focuses on validating and accepting behaviors.

Additionally, DBT places a strong emphasis on the therapeutic relationship, often involving phone coaching and crisis management techniques to address self-destructive behaviors.

While both therapies are effective, DBT is ideal for individuals with complex emotional dysregulation or severe mental health conditions due to its comprehensive and holistic approach.

How is DBT Different from Other Types of Therapy?

The main difference between DBT and other forms of therapy is that DBT integrates a dialectical philosophy, which emphasizes finding a balance between acceptance and change. Unlike some treatments that focus on exploration, DBT is highly skills-based. It revolves around teaching specific coping skills to help individuals manage distressing emotions, navigate relationships, and regulate behavior effectively.

DBT employs behavior analysis, reinforcement, and problem-solving techniques to bring about long-lasting change. Through a balanced approach of validation and support, DBT fosters a therapeutic relationship grounded in trust and collaboration, making it a unique and effective treatment option for a wide range of mental health issues and addiction.

What is the Goal of DBT?

DBT helps individuals work towards various goals that can benefit them in recovery.

Gain Control

The aim is to help individuals gain control of their triggers and reduce reckless and dangerous behaviors like substance abuse and self-harm.

Embrace Emotions

DBT therapies help individuals to fully embrace and regulate their intense emotions, rather than disassociating and turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drugs and alcohol.


Learning how to resolve conflict and address challenges as they arise helps build self-confidence and self-actualization.

Build Relationships

DBT’s unique approach provides individuals with the chance to connect with those going through the same struggles, and foster a support group that they can turn to on the road to recovery.

How Does DBT Treat Addiction and Mental Health?

Comprehensive Treatment

Comprehensive DBT programs include individual therapy sessions, skills training groups, phone coaching, and consultation team meetings, ensuring thorough and coordinated care. DBT therapists tailor treatment plans to meet the unique needs and goals of the individual, fostering a supportive environment for healing and growth.

Mindfulness-Based DBT

DBT integrates mindfulness practices to empower individuals to focus on the present moment and improve their overall quality of life.

Individual Therapy

Patients learn how to apply DBT skills they’ve learned to real-life challenges in regular sessions.

Phone Coaching

Phone coaching provides clients with real-time support and guidance outside of therapy sessions. This additional support can help clients navigate difficult emotions, cope with distressing situations, and prevent relapse.

Group Skills Coaching

DBT skills training provides a safe space for patients to learn and practice DBT skills together under the guidance of a trained therapist with the goal of empowering individuals to develop practical coping mechanisms they can use in everyday life.

Benefits of DBT for Addiction and Mental Health

Research has shown that DBT effectively treats a range of addiction and mental health disorders, including:

  • Substance use disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder

Learn More about DBT at Invigorate Behavioral Health

Invigorate Behavioral Health is dedicated to providing compassionate and effective DBT treatment for individuals living with addiction and mental health challenges in Los Angeles. Our skilled therapists work in a safe environment to support long-term recovery. Contact us today to find out if DBT could help you or a loved one.

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