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Do Applied Behavior Analysts Use DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy)?

Applied Behavioral Analysis is a treatment that has been enjoying a resurgence in the last several years, but do practitioners of the therapy also employ Dialectical Behavior Therapy? Those asking the question obviously must understand what both therapies entail, and when each is useful. Though they come at problems from different angles, they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the two techniques may be complementary.

Related resource: Top 25 Best Applied Behavior Analysis Programs

Applied Behavioral Analysis

This therapy is termed “functional.” That means it addresses a psychological or emotional problem as a linear issue starting at what triggers it, how it progresses and what the consequences of the behavior are. The therapy is used primarily with autism but proves effective in helping adults cope with memory loss and other issues that come with aging. When working with clients on the autism spectrum, therapy is most effective if begun before four years of age. Therapists look at client behaviors and decide which must be addressed. They devise a plan of treatment that improves client communication and other skills needed to change the behaviors. Some of the targeted behaviors could be social skills, reading, and academic performance as well as “adaptive” behaviors such as hygiene and domestic skills. Therapy is intensive and generally entails twenty hours of treatment a week.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that gives the client some insight into the nature of the issue he or she faces. It is a talk-based therapy. Therapists help clients understand the behavior and identify the strengths they possess to counter it. Unlike ABT, this is a collaborative therapy that examines relationships between the client and others. Clients are taught the concept of mindfulness which involves observation, description, and participation. The therapy focuses on self-awareness and interpersonal skills. It teaches clients how to accept both the situation and their own limitations, then to tolerate the situational discomfort by regulating their emotional responses to it. This is especially successful in dealing with personality disorders like depression and anxiety.

How They are Used Together

Approaching a psychological problem from different angles is not a deterrent to using the two types of therapy together. These clients have been found more likely to develop a personality disorder along with autism issues. Combining ABT with Dialectical Behavior Therapy employs the practice of conditioning the client to certain positive responses along with helping them to understand the underlying mental issues that contribute to the behavior. The two therapies reinforce one another. Additionally, they provide a way to monitor and assess progress. By addressing the emotional and mental issues, the patient understands what led to the behavior. By looking at the consequences of the behavior, the motivation for negative reactions decreases.

It is obvious that the therapies will not work together if the client does not have the potential for self-awareness, as in a small child, but in those clients who can understand the underlying mental processes, this duality has proven effective. Additionally, while ABT works best in client-therapist sessions, clients can see benefit from the application of the concepts learned in DBT outside of therapy sessions as well. For certain clients, using Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy together is more effective than using either alone.