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Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. It was originally developed to treat individuals struggling with borderline personality disorder and suicidal ideation but has since been modified to treat a wide variety of issues, including substance abuse.

In this article

    The Basics of DBT

    The main goal of DBT is to help clients build a life that they feel is worth living, especially since so many individuals who undergo DBT are either suicidal or have lost hope that things will get better. This type of therapy is more specialized in giving clients the ability to change their thoughts and actions to align with their goals. 

    The two main components of this ideology are change and acceptance. Other goals of dialectical behavior therapy are to:

    • Learn how to consciously live in the moment
    • Develop and use positive and healthy stress coping mechanisms
    • Increase one’s ability to properly regulate emotions
    • Improve and develop healthy relationships
    • Remain sober by changing certain negative behaviors

    DBT Techniques

    Dialectical behavior therapy is often going to be seen in individual or group therapy settings, however, clients may also have the option to call their therapist in crisis situations. When this happens, clients will be prompted to use those DBT skills they learned in individual or group therapy in real-time. Some techniques that may be used are:

    • Mindfulness
    • Distress Tolerance
    • Interpersonal Effectiveness
    • Emotion Regulation

    How Does it Work?

    When DBT is used during individual therapy, therapists are in charge of: helping improve client motivation, enhancing their capabilities to change, and helping them to develop new behaviors in a structured environment. Because these clients typically have more severe thoughts, the order in which treatment takes place is:

    • Decrease life-threatening thoughts and behaviors
    • Reduce therapy-interfering behaviors
    • Reduce behaviors that negatively impact the quality of life 
    • Increase behavior skills

    When it comes to substance abuse and treating addiction, DBT is used in several different ways. First and foremost, therapists will work with their clients to decrease and stop all substance abuse. They will help clients with withdrawal symptoms as well as craving management so that continued recovery is possible. Once the physical side effects have been dealt with, clients will often begin working on removing themselves from situations, people, and places that may prompt continued use. This can include deleting phone numbers of old dealers, throwing away any drug paraphernalia they may still possess, or even getting a new phone entirely so old friends cannot contact them.

    Once the negative thoughts and actions are taken care of, clients will be able to work on more positive actions with their therapist. They will develop new, positive skills and may even:

    • Form new connections with people who will help promote a sober lifestyle
    • Rekindle relationships that may have been damaged because of their drug abuse
    • Start participating in new hobbies
    • Find a stable job
    • Move to an area that promotes sobriety or only hangout in environments that will not lead them back into drug use
    • Use coping skills to get rid of behaviors that may lead to drug use

    What are the Benefits?

    DBT is another widely used treatment option for substance abuse and mental health conditions. It has been extensively researched and is backed by science with regard to its effectiveness. Not only will clients work towards accepting their thoughts, feelings, values, and things that they cannot change, but they will be enabled to change the things that can. Skills are developed to guide this process, and with time it becomes easier.

    Clients will also be able to address behavioral problems that led to drug use and redirect those behaviors more positively. Thoughts that are not beneficial will be changed, and many clients are then able to break negative cycles that had been leading them to substance abuse. Other benefits most clients see after DBT are:

    • Increased ability to communicate
    • A positive development of relationships
    • New, healthy skills that can prevent relapse
    • Support from therapists and other clients in DBT skill groups
    • Therapist Support

    Which Conditions Can DBT Treat?

    Though this type of therapy was originally developed to treat bipolar disorder and suicidal ideation, it can also help individuals struggling with substance abuse and co-occurring ADHD, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, OCD, and PTSD


    At The Summit Wellness Group, we incorporate DBT into many of our different dual diagnosis treatment programs depending on the specific needs of each client. Our Roswell and Atlanta drug rehabilitation centers offer individual and group sessions that utilize the skills of this therapy to help clients overcome their addictions. If you are struggling, give us a call today so we can help you find a treatment plan that is best for you.

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