for better mental health

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)

Explains what dialectical behaviour therapy is, who it can help, what happens during therapy and how to access it.

How can I access DBT?

The main ways you can seek DBT through the NHS are:

  • Your GP or community mental health team (CMHT). They may have information about the best ways to access DBT in your local area and may be able to tell you about local services.
  • Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT). This is an NHS programme which can provide DBT as a treatment for various mental health problems. However, IAPT is not available in all areas and the waiting lists can be very long. You can search for IAPT services in your local area on the NHS Choices website. Some services will also accept self-referrals but this will depend on location.
  • Specialist therapy services provided by some NHS Trusts (your local NHS Trust website may give details).

Unfortunately, many people find that accessing DBT can be quite difficult depending on the area you live in. If you're on a long waiting list you could ask your doctor if there is any other local support that you can get while you are waiting for your therapy to start. It may also help to have an advocate who can support you in accessing treatment. (See our pages on advocacy for more information about advocacy services.)

"I was referred to a Personality Disorder clinic but found out only group DBT is available is this area and the waiting list was approximately 6 months long....I’m left here with no hope of ever receiving individual DBT therapy."

At Mind we believe everyone with a mental health problem should be able to access excellent care and services, when they need them. See our campaigns page to read about the issues we're currently campaigning on, and find out how you can make your voice heard by getting involved with us.

Can I access DBT through the private sector?

Some private therapists offer DBT, although they will charge a fee so this is not an option for everyone. There is currently no official, comprehensive register of DBT therapists in the UK, but specialist organisations such as Refer self counselling psychotherapy practice (RSCPP) provide details of some DBT teams and therapists on their websites.

(See our page on private sector care for more information.)

Can I do DBT by myself?

Unlike some other therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), it can be difficult to learn DBT techniques by yourself. You might find that doing it by yourself is not as effective as going to individual and group sessions run by trained therapists. It can also be very overwhelming when you start doing DBT, so having the support of a therapist can be really helpful.

There are many benefits to working with a trained therapist, for example:

  • Individual therapy sessions can help you to stay motivated if you have a difficult patch and feel like giving up.
  • Talking to your therapist can help you highlight potential situations where you can practise DBT skills.
  • Being with other people in skills training groups who experience similar problems can be very supportive. It can be helpful to realise that you are not alone – that there are others who understand how you are feeling and go through the same difficulties, and your successes are acknowledged and congratulated in the group.

You may be able to find DBT self-help materials such as diary cards, exercises and behavioural analysis sheets freely available online for you to use to brush up your DBT training alongside or after finishing a formal course. The DBT Self Help website offers these resources.

This information was published in April 2017. We will revise it in 2020.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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