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What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

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Dialectical behavior therapy or DBT is a counseling method used to treat substance abuse, bipolar disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress, and other difficult and chronic mental and physical health issues.

What is DBT and how does it work? Why is this type of therapy useful in addiction treatment?

What is DBT?

Psychology Today says, “DBT is a cognitive-behavioral treatment developed by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. in the 1980s to treat people with borderline disorder.” Until recently, using DBT to treat mood disorders has been the generally accepted practice.

DBT is typically applied in an individual or group therapy session. While individual therapy is used to introduce new coping techniques that can be applied in real life, group sessions allow patients to practice these skills with other people in similar situations.

There are primarily four treatment modalities housed within DBT:

  • Mindfulness teaches the practitioner to live in the moment by eliminating extraneous thoughts, emotions, and worries.
  • Distress tolerance helps the patient deal with negative emotions instead of trying to avoid then.
  • Emotion regulation creates strategic approaches to manage or change intense emotions causing anguish in the person’s life.
  • Interpersonal effectiveness helps people learn communication skills that are assertive yet respectful with the goal of improving relationships.

How DBT is Used in Addiction Treatment

Substance use is often a way for people experiencing pain to alleviate it by taking something that makes them feel better, if only for a short time. Drug rehab works both to detox the individual and fight their physical addiction and also to teach the substance user to find new ways to deal with his or her emotions. DBT can help people that have uncovered emotional baggage to deal with it in new ways that do not involve the consumption of alcohol or drugs. DBT helps people deal with sudden emotional surges by teaching them coping skills that they can practice in everyday life. It also allows the substance user to participate in a group therapy setting that helps people identify their strengths in a supportive environment.

While this therapeutic approach can help individuals uncover the root causes of the emotion that helped lead them toward substance use, it is also behaviorally-based, meaning it applies practical exercises to help people learn new ways to act. Eventually, DBT clients will be able to identify the source of their negative emotions and recognize the feelings for what they are, instead of reaching for their drug of choice. Working out problems instead of masking them with drugs or alcohol is exactly why DBT is a good therapeutic approach when applied in drug rehab.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, contact The Recovery Village Ridgefield to learn about our treatment programs.