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What is DBT and when is it appropriate?

Exploring the transformative benefits of DBT

When it comes to naming famous psychologists, most people would be sure to mention Freud or Jung. In today’s article, we wanted to add another to your list – her name is Dr Marsha M Linehan, and she is an American Professor of Psychology, author and the creator of DBT, Dialetical Behaviour Therapy, which is a type of therapy that uniquely blends Behavioural Science with Buddhist practices and principles.

While Dr Linehan’s work has largely focused on helping people who are suicidal or suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), DBT can also be used to alleviate the symptoms of many other psychological disorders including depression, bipolar disorder, addiction and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In this article, we’re going to explore how DBT came about as a therapy and how it can help you.

Resolving the most severe symptoms

Psychologists who train in DBT are some of the toughest people in the field of psychology. These are people who can handle life or death situations and who will take the call of a person on the brink of suicidal destruction. These are the cases that some psychologists refuse to touch – cases that require a heavy-duty, no-nonsense approach to bring a person back from the realms of near-destruction, to the healthier realms of neutrality and hope.

Dr Linehan was driven to create this robust and proven healing system, largely due to her own personal struggles with suicidal tendencies as a young adult. While radical acceptance and a spiritual experience helped her reach adulthood without self-destructing, she went on to devote her life to the field of psychology, and after attaining her PhD in 1971, she decided to treat people who suffered symptoms similar to her own. Over the decades, the body of work she developed became systematised into the therapeutic modality that we now call DBT.

Today, good DBT practitioners are widely sought after, and there are waiting lists for this treatment all over the world. The system is being used to treat less severe symptoms and has been proven to work for people who are suffering from depression and milder self-destructive behaviours, like addiction. All individuals who come in contact with the system learn how to develop ‘a life worth living’ – it’s learning this fundamental skill that will serve them for decades, long after the treatment is complete.

How is DBT different to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)?

While they both belong to the same school of behavioural sciences, they are very different. If you’ve never had therapy before and are presenting symptoms of mild-to-moderate depression, for example, CBT would be a first-line approach that we would try initially – to see how you respond. CBT can achieve lasting results within just 12 – 16 sessions.

If we discover that CBT isn’t effective, then we may switch the client over to DBT. In DBT, we don’t challenge a person’s negative thinking in the way we would through CBT. We also don’t aim for the same kind of cognitive restructuring that we would try through CBT. We use DBT to strengthen and broaden a client’s capacity for acceptance and change. On top of that, we provide our client with a series of skills that will help manage stress and all the emotions surrounding the areas that need to be accepted and/or changed.

DBT also requires more time from clients. Courses of DBT usually run for a minimum of six months to one year. Some clients may even need two sessions per week initially, and of course, the frequency of sessions is always under review as treatment progresses. For us, the sooner we can equip you with the coping skills you need to create ‘a life worth living’, the better.

Third wave cognitive therapy

DBT belongs to the school of Third Wave Cognitive Therapies, which brings it in line with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Schema. These therapies have all been developed to address the gaps that traditional methods don’t cover. They are sophisticated approaches to therapy, in that they promote looking at how people function in terms of their holistic health, as well as seeking improvements to one’s psychological and emotional wellbeing.

Third wave therapies are unrestricted by some of the assumptions that underpin traditional cognitive therapy, and they provide more freedom to discover answers by exploring mindfulness, personal values, spiritual wisdom and acceptance. These therapies provide the right type of structure that guides productive exploration – that ultimately empowers you to accept what is and change what you can.

We’ve helped many clients heal from a wide range of psychological symptoms. If you would like to discuss any of your symptoms, no matter how mild or how severe, with a qualified professional, then please do contact us for a confidential chat.