DBT (short for dialectical behavior therapy) is a manualized treatment approach that consists of four different modules.1 DBT is widely researched and accepted as a standard method for treating various mental illnesses and behavioral issues.
The ‘D’ stands for dialectical, which refers to integrating opposite concepts. Many people struggle with extreme, all-or-nothing thinking. Such thought patterns can trigger unpleasant emotions and act as a driving force for self-destructive behaviors. Learning how to tolerate different thoughts- and accept them more radically- allows for healthier coping.
The ‘B’ stands for behavioral, which refers to how therapists help clients target unwanted behaviors and learn to problem-solve and change unwanted patterns. The behavioral component entails linking the connection between certain behaviors and the subsequent thoughts and feelings.
DBT is a standard recommendation in treating borderline personality disorder (BPD), a complex mental health condition characterized by:
- Extreme mood swings.
- Frantic efforts to avoid real or perceived abandonment.
- Chronic patterns of unstable relationships.
- Alternating between idolizing someone and devaluing them.
- Engaging in reckless, impulsive behaviors like self-harm, overeating, drug use, or sex.
- Experiencing recurrent thoughts of suicide and acting on those thoughts.
- Feeling a persistent sense of emptiness.
- Having difficulty trusting others.
- Feeling detached or dissociated from reality.
Although people are becoming more aware of BPD, it is still largely misunderstood and stigmatized. People often mistake this condition for other diagnoses like bipolar disorder, depression, substance use disorders, or narcissistic personality disorder. Subsequently, many individuals with BPD also meet the criteria for other diagnoses.
BPD tends to be relatively rare, with approximately 1.6% of the population meeting criteria for it. The lifetime prevalence is estimated to be 5.9%. In standard clinical settings, the ratio of women to men has been reported as 3:1.4
In addition to supporting people with BPD, DBT can also treat: