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What is DBT?

Modern applied psychology offers numerous techniques and strategies for helping patients deal with mental health issues, including the practice of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT is closely related to other forms of evidence-based care, including cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and applied behavior analysis (ABA). While these practices aren’t necessarily interchangeable, they can be used congruently as part of an individualized, patient-oriented treatment strategy.

Related resource: Top 15 Best Online Applied Behavior Analysis Programs

Goals and Purpose of Treatment

Originally formulated as a possible treatment for certain types of personality disorders, dialectical therapy is now used to address a variety of mental health concerns. The typical goal of therapy is to help the patient learn to cope with sources of stress, whether they are memories from years ago or an ongoing experience. Therapists first guide patients towards a more self-aware and objective state of mind, allowing them to get a different perspective on their own thoughts and feelings. Subsequent goals include building a tolerance to specific sources of stress, learning to actively control their emotional state and developing stronger social skills.

Techniques and Methodology

Much like CBT, the dialectical approach requires a social and trusting bond between therapists and their patients. Many sessions take the form of talk therapy, which may be structured or informal depending on the situation. Developing self-awareness, coping mechanisms and behavior changes takes time, so many therapists approach each step of the process with patience and flexibility. DBT is also a form of evidence-based care, so practitioners need to observe, record and compare quantifiable results as they proceed.

Cognitive Versus Dialectical Therapy

The line separating CBT and DBT can be blurry, especially for those who aren’t familiar with the practice. The dialectical approach can be considered a branch of cognitive therapy. Both rely heavily on mutual participation, trust and client participation over the course of weeks or months. While cognitive behavior therapy prioritizes practical solutions to current problems, the dialectical model shifts the focus to the thought patterns behind the issue, according to Forbes. Dialectical therapy also hinges on the pairing of opposites by building positive thought patterns and integrating them with ones that have negative implications.

Practicing Behavior Therapy

The success of clinical therapy often hinges on the ability, experience, and participation of the psychologist. These professionals encounter dozens of complex mental health disorders as well as patients with vastly different backgrounds, experiences and beliefs. Practitioners may also encounter people who suffer from extreme suicidal impulses, self-destructive habits and addiction disorders, so they need to be able to stay calm and focused in stressful circumstances. Like other forms of practical clinical therapy, DBT is usually offered in a formal setting by a professional. Therapists often need a master’s or doctoral degree to offer a full range of clinical services.

Understanding the forces that shape human thought and behavior is a driving goal behind the entire field of psychology. Whether students choose the field out of academic interest or a desire to help others, there are plenty of ways for them to grow and specialize their career. Like many other forms of applied therapy, understanding how to use DBT can be a valuable asset when addressing many common personality and emotional disorders.