In the field of addiction recovery, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been long recognized as an effective treatment method. A similar intervention, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), can be equally effective to help ease anxiety and other common mental health conditions. DBT is particularly important in caring for people who have suicidal tendencies.
What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?
DBT was first designed in the 1990s for treating borderline personality disorder. This form of treatment helps regulate emotions, reduce harmful behaviors, provide structure for improved life quality, etc. People may receive DBT through individual or group therapy sessions and is considered a comprehensive treatment approach.
A dialectical behavior therapist is trained to intentionally validate and subvert certain emotions and provide change strategies to prevent harm. This is based on the belief that emotional dysregulation is caused by environmental factors. The term “dialectical” refers to the combination of two opposing ideas. Ancient dialectical philosophies addressed the balance between acceptance and change, and DBT builds these aspects into therapy sessions.
Differences Between DBT and CBT
DBT is different from the more traditional approach of CBT in the former’s emphasis on “how” to reduce harm. While CBT focuses on the “why” of the behavior, by using root cause analysis, the goals of DBT are primarily to reduce the frequency, intensity, and duration of harmful behaviors.
People who participate in DBT sessions may gain skills for better regulating emotions, navigating relationships, and increasing self-awareness of needed adjustments in life. The overall result is often a decrease in the frequency and intensity of suicidal or other harmful behaviors.
Other Benefits of Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Group DBT therapy sessions coach participants to learn distress tolerance techniques. They learn how to survive crises without making situations worse. By increasing their tolerance of emotional pain and balancing life through mindfulness practices, DBT helps people emerge from dark moments to see the joys of life.
For these and many more reasons, DBT is appropriate for people with complex emotional struggles that manifest through impulsive or self-destructive behaviors. People with co-occurring conditions of substance use disorders and personality disorders should consider this evidence-based treatment.
What Happens in a DBT Session
The first stage of DBT is to stabilize participants and help them gain control of their current behaviors. This may involve crisis intervention and harm reduction. Next, the therapist will work with people on identifying their emotional pain, past traumatic experiences, harmful thoughts, and beliefs.
After these first two stages, the therapist will lead people to examine their everyday life and create change strategies. These may include techniques to maintain progress, set goals, increase self-awareness, and explore new sources of joy and contentment in life. The therapist may also assign homework so that people can practice new skills outside the session. Each week, participants may also need to complete a diary card or self-monitoring form to track their treatment progress.
Group therapy usually involves four to ten participants. Sharing experiences with people who are going through similar challenges may dissipate the sense of isolation related to many personality disorders. Group sessions are run similarly to individual sessions, but interventions are slightly altered to include all group members.
Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Everyone?
Unlike CBT, DBT may not be right for everyone in addiction recovery. It is a treatment approach designed to care for people in situations that need a higher level of intervention. For people with a dual diagnosis of substance use disorder and personality disorder, DBT may be a better option than traditional CBT.
Because DBT offers a higher level of intervention in times of crisis, it often requires a considerable time commitment in terms of attending sessions and completing homework as directed. DBT processes involve a logical sequence and kind of academic coaching. For these reasons, some people may not feel prepared or well enough equipped for this kind of therapy.
Choosing the Right Therapy
When evaluating options for therapeutic interventions, start with the method proven to be most effective for treating your particular diagnosis and symptoms. If you have not yet received an official diagnosis, make an appointment to do so. This is the first and most important step to help you identify the best treatment options.
Once you have a diagnosis, health professionals may recommend the best fit for you. You can begin interviewing therapists to find the best match. Make sure you are informed about the wide variety of psychotherapies, including CBT and DBT. Also, know that it takes some time for people to build trust and develop a good patient-therapist relationship.
Even if you feel treatment is not as effective as you expected, give it a few weeks before you quit or try a different option. Ask yourself if you have done the hard work that is required. Recovery takes work, and it won’t happen overnight. Persistence and commitment will get you closer every day.
If you are concerned about a loved one’s tendency for self-harm during recovery, consider dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) to help your loved one. Our therapy programs at Laguna Shores Recovery in Mission Viejo help our patients understand their addiction and why it began. Our DBT program develops a balance between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to stop harmful ones from prevailing. This will help build a foundation for a healthier life. At Laguna Shores, our team of licensed mental healthcare professionals and therapists are experts at creating customized treatment plans that include the best known methods of care for a range of mental health conditions. Many staff members have been in recovery themselves, so we understand the challenges of life after treatment. Our full medical residential facility offers a range of treatments, including diagnosis, behavioral therapies, and 12-Step programs. Call Laguna Shores Recovery today at (866) 906-3203.