Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)

What is DBT?

DBT stands for dialectical behaviour therapy. It helps people to manage and control strong emotions.

DBT is taught in a 16 week programme, which usually involves a mixture of one-to-one sessions with a therapist and group sessions.

What is DBT used for?

DBT is used to help people who feel emotions very strongly.

It can help with things like:

  • suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • self-harm
  • depression

DBT is less common than some other talking therapies like CBT or counselling. You’d usually only be offered by a specialist mental health team.

Read how DBT gave Loren freedom from borderline personality disorder on Young Minds

What is it like to have DBT?

DBT is similar to CBT in that it teaches you to cope with your feelings by changing the way you think and behave.

CBT mainly focuses on changes you want to make. DBT does this, too, but it also helps you to accept yourself and your feelings.

For example - for someone who was self-harming - a DBT therapist would help them to understand and accept the feelings that lead to self-harm, and find some healthier ways of coping.

Another difference is that DBT is more likely to involve some group sessions, unlike CBT which is mostly one-to-one.

One-to-one sessions

You’ll usually have a one-to-one session with a DBT therapist every week, lasting 45 to 60 minutes.

Your therapist will help you to look at the behaviours you want to change and help you work towards your goals.

They’ll probably set you some exercises to do in the session or at home.

Group sessions

In group sessions, a DBT therapist will teach you skills to practice each week. They’ll help you to learn ways of managing difficult emotions, like:

  • mindfulness - focusing on the present, rather than thinking about things that happened in the past or might happen in the future
  • distress tolerance - learning to cope with your feelings in a safe way
  • interpersonal effectiveness - how you relate to other people by putting boundaries in place or asking for support when you need it
  • emotional regulation - becoming more aware and more in control of your feelings

Telephone crisis support

Your DBT therapist might also give you the option to call them in between sessions, if you’re finding it difficult to cope.

If they do this, they’ll set some ground rules about when you should call them, and the kind of help they can give you over the phone.