What Can I Expect During Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

What Can I Expect During Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

Do you know that substance addiction is a common risk factor for self-harm? If you or a loved one experiences suicidal thoughts while recovering from addiction, you must seek help from health professionals. At Laguna Shores Recovery Center, our recovery experts provide dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) to help alleviate thoughts and behaviors of self-harm.

DBT Prevents Addiction-Related Self-Harm

Substance addiction tends to co-occur with mental health illnesses, such as depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and eating disorders. People who develop both conditions may experience intense emotional distress and seek self-harm. Some of them may have suicidal thoughts. In these situations, traditional psychotherapy may lack the strength of crisis intervention.

Dialectical behavior therapy is designed as a comprehensive approach to treating the co-occurrence of addiction and mental health illnesses. It focuses on restoring the balance between conflicted thoughts and behavioral patterns. The ultimate goals are acceptance and commitment to positive change, especially avoiding actions of self-harm.

The Difference Between DBT and CBT

DBT is an adapted version of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). While CBT is effective in helping people identify the connection between negative thoughts and behaviors, the purpose is to cultivate more self-awareness in controlling emotions. According to scientific research, CBT is proven effective in treating depression and anxiety disorders.

DBT is often considered a subset of CBT because it also relies on the approach of identification and correction. But DBT is designed to help people who experience emotional pain and discomfort to the point of developing potentially harmful actions. Another distinction is that dialectical behavior therapy helps individuals identify external triggers and match them with coping mechanisms. 

Because of the more specialized focus of DBT, its strengths lie in treating people with more complex mental health disorders, such as borderline personality disorder. Rather than talking through the internal issues they are struggling with, DBT guides people in managing impulsive behaviors in response to external stimuli that may lead to overwhelming pain. 

DBT Goals: Acceptance and Safety

Dialectical behavior therapy operates with a slightly different philosophy by helping individuals find ways to accept themselves and feel safe. These two principles are fundamentally important to people with past addiction, traumatic experiences, and suicidal tendencies. For example, survivors of sexual trauma tend to respond well to DBT techniques. 

Within the acceptance and safety framework, DBT also integrates conflict resolution and change into its key principles. A therapist will teach about distress tolerance, a core skill of managing distress and its related thought patterns. Only when individuals unpack and validate their emotional distress can they process it without harsh judgment on themselves.  

DBT Processes and Techniques

As a cognitive-based approach, DBT can be operationalized through individual therapy as well as group therapy format. The most common kind is probably a series of one-on-one sessions with a trained DBT therapist. You can expect every session to follow a structured agenda. The therapist will begin by introducing some key concepts and evaluating the fit of this therapy for your needs. This is when you can explain any suicidal ideation or self-harm tendencies that co-occurred with addiction in the past. 

Not everyone can open up to their therapist in the first session of DBT. A well-trained therapist will patiently spend time asking questions and building trust with you. Even if it takes more than one session to get you warmed up, the speed of therapy moves with the speed of trust-building. Depending on your needs, the entire DBT therapeutic treatment may take up to 12 sessions. 

DBT integrates a wide range of techniques, such as mindfulness, interpersonal skills, distress tolerance, and emotional regulation. These are designed to improve the general quality of social life for individuals recovering from mental health disorders, such as borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder. 

DBT at Laguna Shores Recovery Center follows a process of “describe-explain-assert-reinforce.” A therapist will work with people to follow these actionable steps. The outcomes are often impressive as they learn how to remain assertive while avoiding being too blunt. Finding the balance between assertiveness and impulsivity can reduce the chances of emotional distress. 

Distress Tolerance and Emotional Regulation Skills

DBT is uniquely designed to help recovering individuals build up distress tolerance. People with dual diagnosis often struggle with emotional distress in life. Distress tolerance skills include understanding, acknowledging, and accepting these instances of emotional turmoil. A DBT therapist may introduce some sensory practices, such as the use of temperature tools, physical sensation, and muscle relaxation exercises, to build up a person’s distress tolerance level. 

Related to this is the skill to regulate one’s emotions. This is where DBT overlaps with CBT. The goals include identifying and understanding negative emotions as well as decreasing emotional vulnerability. A trained therapist will coach how to problem solve and manage extreme emotions from becoming a crisis. Laguna Shores Recovery Center has had a high success rate in treating people by using DBT. Working with the best team of experts in this area can set you in the right direction for recovery.

Each chronic illness responds differently to treatment techniques. In order to treat addiction and severe mental health illnesses at the same time, you will want to go with the method that has been shown most effective. Starting with a diagnosis from a psychiatrist or psychologist is the first step to helping you identify the best treatment options. Then you may need to consult with a team of recovery experts and mental health professionals on what is the best therapy treatment. Laguna Shores Recovery Center provides top-rated therapies. Our experts will consider your symptoms, treatment history, and the goals you outline for what you want out of therapy, and recommend the best next steps. Call us at (866) 774-1532.