Dialectical Behavior Therapy

DBT was originally developed to treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). It is now recognized as the gold standard psychological treatment for this population. In addition, research has shown that it is effective in treating a wide range of other disorders such as substance dependence, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and eating disorders.

How is DBT different than Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

DBT is a modification of standard cognitive behavioral treatment. When first developing DBT in the late 1980s, Dr. Marsha Linehan and her team of therapists used standard CBT techniques, such as skills training, homework assignments, behavioral rating scales, and behavioral analysis in addressing clients’ problems. 

While these worked for some people, others were put off by the constant focus on change. Linehan’s research team added acceptance strategies to the change strategies, and as a result, clients felt their therapists understood them much better. They stayed in treatment instead of dropping out, felt better about their relationships with their therapists, and improved faster.

The balance between acceptance and change strategies in therapy formed the fundamental “dialectic” that resulted in the treatment’s name. 

“Dialectic” means ‘weighing and integrating contradictory facts or ideas with a view to resolving apparent contradictions.’ 

Why does DBT teach skills?

DBT assumes that clients are doing they best they can, AND they need to learn new behaviors in all relevant contexts. DBT helps enhance a client’s capabilities by teaching behavioral skills in areas like mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. These skills help people develop effective ways to navigate situations that arise in everyday life or manage specific challenges.


What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)? (2017). www.behavioraltech.org.

Change is the only constant in life.
— Heraclitus