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What is DBT?

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

DBT stands for Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which means nothing to most people. Here's a way to better understand. "Dialectical", according to Marsha Linehan, is the co-existence of two seemingly opposite things. For example, her treatment approach encourages us to assume that we are doing the very best we can in life and that we need to do better and try harder. Seems contradictory, doesn't it?

As we embrace the spirit of DBT, we learn to think in more open and abstract ways. We realize we can treat others with kindness while maintaining our boundaries and saying no. We learn that balancing acceptance and change brings peace. It's not about either/or; it's about both/and!

The concepts of DT can be a bit confusing at first, which is why these skills and ways of thinking are taught through individual therapy, group therapy, homework exercises, and reading.

DBT breaks down mindfulness as the core component to effectively facing life's challenges. From there, the tenets of DBT include Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation, and Interpersonal Effectiveness. Each module is made up of skills for individuals to learn and practice outside of session before returning to therapy to discuss what worked for them and what got in the way of being effective. Not every skill works every time and that is ok! In this mindset, we learn to identify what barriers prevented the skill from being helpful and what we can try differently next time. We avoid judging or blaming ourselves for set backs and we keep on learning all that life has to teach!

DBT is a helpful treatment option for teenagers, young adults, and families because it aims to improve emotion regulation. MacPherson, Cheavens, & Fristad (2012) report

"All of the behaviors and disorders that have been targeted in studies of DBT for adolescents can be conceptualized by poor emotion regulation."

Emotion regulation underlies many of the problems faced by the folks we serve, such as suicidal thinking, self-injury, impulsivity, anger, and depression. Therefore, DBT is an imperative part of the work we do at Rainbow Family Wellness.


MacPherson, H.A., Cheavens, J.S., & Fristad, M.A. (2012, December 8). Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Adolescents: Theory, Treatment, Adaptations, and Empirical Outcomes. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 16, 59-80. DOI 10.1007/s10567-012-0126-7

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