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Explains what dialectical behaviour therapy is, who it can help, what happens during therapy and how to access it.
Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is a type of talking treatment. It's based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), but has been adapted to help people who experience emotions very intensely.
It's mainly used to treat problems associated with borderline personality disorder (BPD), but it has also been used more recently to treat a number of other different types of mental health problems (see Is DBT right for me?).
"I had bounced in and out of mental health services for a long time and nothing had helped, my condition had just worsened... Then I started DBT. Now I know what helps me, I have strategies when life is tough. Not everything is plain sailing, but when things go a bit wrong, I bounce back rather than spiralling."
The goal of DBT is to help you learn to manage your difficult emotions by letting yourself experience, recognise and accept them. Then as you learn to accept and regulate your emotions, you also become more able to change your harmful behaviour. To help you achieve this, DBT therapists use a balance of acceptance and change techniques.
Acceptance techniques focus on understanding yourself as a person, and making sense of why you might do things such as self-harm or misuse drugs. A DBT therapist might suggest that this behaviour may have been the only way you have learned to deal with the intense emotions you feel – so even though it’s damaging to you in the long-term, and may be alarming to other people, your behaviour actually makes sense.
"Finally someone is saying 'yes, it makes sense' rather than 'no, that's wrong’."
DBT therapists use change techniques to encourage you to change your behaviour and learn more effective ways of dealing with your distress. They encourage you to replace behaviours that are harmful to you with behaviours that can help you move forward with your life. For example, you can learn to start challenging your unhelpful thoughts and develop a more balanced way of looking at things.
"To get the most out of DBT requires a certain leap of faith and willingness to have your thinking and behaviours challenged. It is totally different to any other type of therapy I have ever had. It's hard work, but over time and with effort, life starts to get better."
This information was published in April 2017. We will revise it in 2020.
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