What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?
Dialectical behavior therapy combines elements of many typical behavioral therapies, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness practices. Dialectical behavior therapy aims to balance two ideas that seem to be opposites: acceptance of the present and the desire to change.
DBT therapy helps patients accept current circumstances without judgment and develop skills and strategies to change thoughts and behavior in a helpful way. Acceptance is a unique component of this therapy that can help patients feel more in control of and at peace with their current symptoms and life circumstances.
Marsha Linehan and the History of DBT
The history of DBT began when clinicians in the 1970s failed to see improvements in their suicidal patients when using traditional cognitive and behavioral treatments. Patients were frustrated by the focus on change without acknowledgment of their present symptoms or circumstances. Therapy that was focused only on making dramatic changes caused patients to disengage during treatment and prevented them from improving.
As a result, DBT was originally developed by psychologist Dr. Marsha Linehan and was initially used in patients who were chronically suicidal. DBT was developed based on the concept that people with mental illness might lack skills like emotional regulation or the ability to manage distressing situations. They also might be in circumstances that keep them from using any helpful skills or coping strategies that they do have.
To address this, DBT was developed to include a focus on acceptance of the present, while still aiming to make positive changes. An emphasis on accepting the present was included to acknowledge the patient’s current situation and symptoms, which, in turn, increases their willingness to change.