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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.

The Summit Wellness Group’s dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) center in Atlanta, GA, uses this evidence-based practice to help individuals with substance use disorders (SUD) and mental health challenges.

In this article

The Basics of Dialectical Behavior Therapy

The main goal of DBT is to help clients build a life they feel is worth living, especially since so many individuals who undergo DBT are suicidal or have lost hope that things will get better. This type of therapy is more specialized in allowing clients 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 live in the moment consciously
  • Develop and use positive and healthy stress-coping mechanisms
  • Increase one’s ability to regulate emotions properly
  • Improve and develop healthy relationships
  • Remain sober by changing certain negative behaviors

Dialectical Behavior Therapy Techniques

Dialectical behavior therapy will often be seen in individual or group therapy settings. However, clients may also be able to call their therapist in crisis. 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 refers to intentionally focusing one’s attention on the present moment with an attitude of non-judgmental awareness and acceptance. The exercises your therapist may use include meditation, guided imagery, body scan meditation, mindful breathing, or sensory awareness practices.
  • Distress Tolerance skills help you cope with and tolerate distressing situations or overwhelming emotions. You learn to do so healthily and adaptively. These skills are instrumental when immediate change is not possible. You learn to engage with your five senses to build resilience, develop effective coping mechanisms, and prevent impulsive or self-destructive behaviors.
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness helps individuals build and maintain healthy relationships, communicate effectively, and navigate social interactions. You learn to respect your needs and those of others in social and professional situations.
  • Emotion Regulation helps individuals understand, manage, and cope with intense and distressing emotions healthily and adaptively. Emotion regulation skills allow you to control your emotions, reduce emotional vulnerability, and respond to emotional experiences more broadly.
dialectical behavioral therapy

How Does DBT 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 as follows:

  • 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 and craving management to make continued recovery 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 the 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 can work on more positive steps 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 concerning 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 can break negative cycles leading to substance abuse. Other benefits most clients see after DBT are:

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

Which Conditions Can DBT Treat?

There are several mental health conditions and substance use disorders (SUD) that DBT can treat. They include the following:

  • Suicidal ideation (SI) is the umbrella term for the stormy range of thoughts, wishes, and actions about taking your life. These feelings fluctuate in duration, severity, and how it’s expressed.
  • Co-occurring substance Use Disorder (SUD) is when a person has a mental health disorder. To cope with the symptoms, they begin to abuse substances. The mental health disorder and SUD must be treated for a chance at long-term recovery. Many individuals with addiction have co-occurring disorders or underlying issues contributing to their substance use.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) occurs when there are hindrances in the brain. There is disrupted functionality in the nervous system. This, in turn, affects attention, impulse control, and activity. ADHD impacts attention span and daily activities such as work and school. It also can hurt social relationships.
  • Bipolar Disorder affects a person’s mood, energy, and behavior. Medical professionals characterize the complex disease by episodes of extreme highs, considered mania or hypomania, and lows, which present as depression. The episodes come between periods of normal moods and can last from a few hours to days into several weeks.
  • Eating Disorder is abnormal eating behaviors, attitudes, and perceptions toward food, body weight, and body shape. The three most common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder.
  • Anxiety Disorder is the most common mental illness in the U.S. It has several common causes. Those include stress, traumatic events, genetics, environment, psychological and developmental disorders, and drugs and alcohol.
  • Depression is a common mental illness. It has several common causes. Those include stress, traumatic events, genetics, environment, psychological and developmental disorders, and drugs and alcohol.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is when individuals have obsessive thinking patterns, including unwanted thoughts, images, or urges that make them feel anxious or distressed. Other examples of OCD can include fear of contamination, doubts about completing a task, or thoughts of aggression.
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) develops after individuals experience or witness a traumatic event or series of events. A traumatic event could be combat, a car accident, rape, or a natural disaster. A series of events can include repeated domestic violence, sexual assault or abuse spanning an extended period, or consistent bullying.

At The Summit Wellness Group, we incorporate DBT into many of our different dual diagnosis treatment programs depending on each client’s needs. Our Roswell and Atlanta drug rehabilitation centers offer individual and group sessions that utilize the skills of this therapy to help clients overcome their mental illness and SUD. 

dialectical behavioral therapy

What Primary Rehab Programs Include DBT?

Through proper medication and support, individuals with mental illness or substance use disorders (SUD) can manage their symptoms and reduce the negative impact that behaviors and emotions have on their lives. Our clients in our intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization, and sober living programs engage in DBT.

Intensive Outpatient Program

Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) are a flexible treatment option without an inpatient stay. You get to maintain your daily routines while still addressing your illness. IOP aims to stabilize mood swings, manage symptoms, and improve functioning.

Partial Hospitalization Program

A partial hospitalization program (PHP) offers structured care during the day, allowing you to return home at night. It provides intensive treatment tailored to co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, including medication management and counseling. 

PHP closely watches symptoms, establishes routines, and builds a supportive community. Research shows that PHP significantly improves symptom management and overall quality of life for individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. 

Sober Living Homes
Our sober living homes are designed so clients live on-site with others experiencing a similar journey. Together, they work to overcome the effects of trauma and substance abuse.

Sober living requires that clients practice sobriety and contribute to the house’s upkeep. This sense of community includes support groups, therapy, and continuing trauma treatment at our facility. We want the transition back to daily life post-recovery to be as smooth and successful as possible.

Get Help Now

We’d love the opportunity to help you during this overwhelming and challenging process. Our sincere passion is assisting people to recover to live whole, meaningful, healthy lives.

Call us 24/7 at 770-299-1677 or fill out our contact form, and a member of our admissions team will contact you shortly.

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Get help now

We’d love the opportunity to help you during this overwhelming and difficult process. Our sincere passion is helping people recover so that they can live full, meaningful, and healthy lives.

Call us 24/7 at 770-299-1677 or fill out our contact form and a member of our admissions team will contact you shortly.