What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

DBT was created by a psychologist, Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. She wanted to help people who live painful lives, feel depressed or suicidal, feel intense anxiety, hurt themselves to change the way they feel, have trouble staying sober or feel out of control of their behavior.


Sometimes these people have experienced something painful that they can’t stop thinking about. This makes them have nightmares, feel angry or sad much of the time, or feel misunderstood. They may feel hurt, angry or afraid that others don’t or won’t like them. 


DBT focuses on these painful feelings so you don’t have to avoid them. We help you learn to deal with them so you can learn to feel better. We will teach you specific skills for doing so.

DBT includes four components that work together to help you.

  1. Skills training classes are classes that are held once a week for up 90 minutes. They teach skills for coping with overpowering feelings, relationship problems and distractibility. At LifeWork, we have skills classes for both adults and adolescents. 

  2. Individual DBT Sessions, one session per week of approximately 50 minutes, will help you to apply the skills taught in skills groups. 

  3. Skills coaching is available by phone 24 hours a day. You will be able to call contact your individual therapist or another therapist for suggestions on skills usage or to report successful skills usage.

  4. All DBT therapists must attend a weekly Consultation Team. In these meetings, DBT therapists obtain consultation, training and assistance from others on the team in order to maintain the most effective, evidence-based treatment for you. In addition, DBT therapists continually work to manage and change behaviors in their own lives.

What are the skills taught in DBT? What problems are they meant to address?

Mindfulness Skills can create a stronger sense of self, increase your attention span and help you gain control over your thoughts. These skills are helpful to address feelings of emptiness, scattered thoughts, obsessive thinking or confusion about self. About a third of the DBT curriculum focuses on mindfulness skills.

Interpersonal Effectiveness skills help you with fears of abandonment or rejection by others, conflicted relationships or "hot and cold" feelings about others. These skills can help create stronger realtionships, improve negotiating and increase your abilities to ask for things or to say no.    


Emotion Regulation skills help you work toward more "even" moods, acceptance of your feelings and control over their high emotions. These skills are helpful for people who experience intense mood swings or mood-driven choices and behavior. 


Finally, Distress Tolerance skills help people "get through the moment without making it worse". These skills help to decrease desperate, impulsive behaviors that lead away from a happy future. They help people increase their ability to handle pain and stress for longer periods of time. 

What is Emotion Dysregulation?


Emotion Dysregulation (that emotionally out-of-control feeling) is a label that mental health professionals use to describe the emotions and behavior of certain people who have serious problems in living. People with this dysregulation often experience stronger emotions than the average person, feel afraid or desperate more often and frequently behave impulsively as a result.They may have problems getting and keeping good relationships because their feelings of anger or fear are so strong. People with emotional dysregulation may think that others are trying to take advantage of them or have hurt feelings easily. Also, they may have feelings of emptiness or sadness inside that cause them to want to die or to find relief in self-harm. For people with emotion dysregulation, these mood swings and the behaviors that come from them may make it impossible to live a good life.


Most people who have this difficulty also have one or several diagnoses. These often include a mood disorder (like Bipolar Disorder, anxiety or depression), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder or others. Also, they may be on one, several or no medications at all. One rule that applies to almost everyone with emotion dysregulation is that medication is not enough to help people get better and stay better. Therapy is also required in order to make satisfying and lasting life changes and to maintain this dysregulation.


DBT is the treatment that research has proven to be the most helpful in treating emotional and behavioral dysregulation. It can help people stop attempting suicide, reduces self-harm behaviors and helps people feel better inside.


Some people who do not have a diagnosis seem to get better when they are treated with DBT, too.  Anyone who has strong mood swings, impulsive behavior, feels anxious much of the time, and lacks coping skills will probably find DBT helpful. 

Additional DBT Resources


Resource web site that includes information about research  


Behavioral Research and Therapy Clinics
includes abstracts of many studies done on effectiveness of DBT.

BPD Central offers information about Borderline Personality Disorder, support for family members and information about how to find a good therapist.

Interested in learning more or have questions about DBT? Please attend our free presentation, Stopping the Emotional Rollercoaster, held the first Saturday of every month at 9 a.m. More information here.