DBT Overview

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a type of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan in the 1990s and adapted by Drs. Alec Miller and Jill Rathus for adolescents. DBT skills training groups focus on teaching skills that you can apply to your everyday life. Dialectics is when two opposite ideas are both true at the same time (like when you love someone and are mad at them at the same time).
** Linehan, M.M. (2015). DBT skills training manual (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
There are five main sections of DBT skills:
  • Mindfulness – skills to help focus on one (and only one!) thing at a time and intentionally pay attention to what is happening right now, without judgment.
  • Walking the Middle Path – skills to help avoid thinking in terms of black and white and instead look for the grey as well as skills to help increase validation and introduce principles of behavior change.
  • Emotion Regulation – skills to focus on understanding emotions, building resilience, and decrease both vulnerability and suffering.
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness – skills help us create and keep positive and healthy relationships.
  • Distress Tolerance – skills to help you get through difficult moments without making them worse.

DBT is a complex and effective treatment and DBT skills are just one component of that treatment. There are over 50 DBT skills and so they are not all shown here, however some key skills that may be helpful for many teens are outlined and explained.

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Distress Tolerance

Bad things happen to all of us at some point or another. And sometimes it even feels like a lot of hard things are happening back to back or all at once.

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Mindfulness, in DBT, is focusing on one and only one thing while intentionally paying attention to what is happening right now, without judgment.

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Often our minds get pulled in a whole bunch of different directions.


Emotion Regulation

Emotion regulation skills focus on understanding emotions, building resilience, and decreasing both vulnerability and suffering through skill use.


Interpersonal Effectiveness

Not only do our relationships impact our emotions, our emotions impact our relationships.