Dialectical Behavior Therapy In Rehab And Detox

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What is DBT?

Dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy used to treat mental illnesses like drug and alcohol abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder. A mindfulness-based intervention, dialectical behavior therapy has been shown to reduce substance abuse, self-harm behaviors, suicidal thoughts and negative emotions like anger and fear.

A Brief History of Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy was developed in the 1980s, a culmination of a large body of work by Marsha Linehan, who focused on developing a treatment for suicidal women with multiple problems. Linehan scoured the literature on successful psychosocial treatments for other conditions, including anxiety disorders. Through a combination of research, experience and practice, she created interventions to help clients develop control over their thoughts and emotions and accept negative emotional states without turning to self-destructive behaviors as a way of coping.

How Does Dialectical Behavior Therapy Work?

Dialectical behavior therapy generally includes a weekly, hour-long individual therapy session and a weekly group skills session. DBT helps clients identify problematic thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and develop new, healthier ways of thinking and behaving. It helps them:

  • Stay aware of their emotions and how these affect their behaviors.
  • Better regulate their emotions.
  • Develop a tolerance for discomfort.
  • Improve interpersonal relationships through better social and communication skills.

Dialectical behavior therapy involves four phases of treatment:

Phase 1

Clients move from feeling out of control to developing control over their thoughts and actions.

Phase 2

Clients move from unhealthy behaviors like suppressing or avoiding emotions to experiencing and accepting a range of positive and negative emotions.

Phase 3

Clients define life goals, build self-respect, and strive for authentic happiness.

Phase 4

Clients find deeper meaning in life through spiritual pursuits and achieve feelings of completeness and joy.

Effectiveness of DBT

A number of studies demonstrate the efficacy of dialectical behavior therapy. Research shows that DBT reduces suicide attempts, psychiatric hospitalizations, angry behaviors, and emergency room visits. According to an article in the journal Psychiatry MMC, dialectical behavior therapy serves the five functions of treatment and uses evidence-based, acceptance-oriented interventions consistent with the dialectical philosophy.​​​1

Where Can I Find DBT?

Although there is no certification in dialectical behavior therapy as a specialty or special proficiency, many therapists are trained in this modality of treatment. Substance abuse and mental health treatment centers routinely use DBT and make it an integral part of many treatment plans.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2963469/

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