What is DBT?

Over the next few months, we will be introducing some of the main therapy approaches that our therapists use. This series will help you better understand the ways C.H.E.R.I.I.S.H. Counseling can support your growth! And you can always ask more questions about these approaches during your phone consultation with our therapists!

This entry, we’re focusing on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

What is DBT?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan. Dr. Linehan created DBT to help people with big mood changes and unsafe behavior (such as self-harm or suicidal ideation) build skills for “a life worth living.” Since its beginnings, DBT has supported many different people, including those who experience: anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts, and perfectionism, among others.

Dialectics (the “D” in DBT) are parts of life that appear to be in conflict, and yet are somehow both true.

Dialectics remind us that life has black, white, and many shades of grey. You probably experience several dialectics right now in your own life:

  • You might really love your family member, but also feel incredibly annoyed by them.
  • You might want to have more free time to relax, but keep saying “yes” to every opportunity or request that presents itself.
  • You might want to have more close friendships, but you spend every weekend alone at home.

DBT teaches us that we can experience both of these things at the same time and find ways to either resolve or tolerate the internal conflict that they cause through developing skills in four key areas:

Mindfulness  —  Distress Tolerance
Emotional Regulation  —  Interpersonal Effectiveness


Anxiety, worry, and stress pull us out of the present moment and propel us into the future. They cause thoughts such as, “What if I fail that test?” “I’m worried I’m going to oversleep!” and “If I share this part of me, no one will want to be around me anymore. I’ll lose everyone.” These thoughts cause anxiety to grow bigger and bigger. DBT teaches us that Mindfulness, which is the ability to focus on the present moment, helps us quiet those thoughts and return to a state of balanced calm. In this Wise Mind state, you can notice things as they are, make intentional choices based on your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and find a sense of grounding and connection.

Distress Tolerance

In your life, there are both things you can and cannot change (as much as you may try or wish!). Distress Tolerance skills are for all of those things you cannot change, from really big things (such as the way your family responded when you came out as queer, the death of a loved one, or the end of a relationship) to the smaller things (spilling coffee on your shirt, being stuck in traffic, or having a big test next week). Distress Tolerance skills help you find new ways to look at and manage the discomfort that these events bring, which reduces their negative impact on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. One Distress Tolerance skill is Half-Smile, which you can learn more about here.

Emotional Regulation

Has it ever felt like your emotions sometimes make more choices for you than you do? Have you ever shouted at a friend or family member when you were overwhelmed, stressed, or depressed? Or said things that you didn’t mean because you were feeling hurt or scared? Emotional Regulation skills help you notice, respond to, and take care of your feelings in new ways. This means, you’ll be less impulsive, you’ll know how to help yourself when emotions become overwhelming, and you’ll develop alternatives to harmful patterns in your life.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

Relationships are a huge part of  life. You may have some very supportive people in your life, who you feel a warm connection with and who you appreciate in many ways. You may also have some challenging relationships; these people may not listen to you or you may not know how to tell them what you need. Interpersonal Effectiveness skills help you become more effective in relationships with others and in relationship with yourself. These skills allow you to communicate effectively, build relationships that benefit all people involved, and balance others’ needs with your own.

With the combination of these skills, you are prepared to find hope in challenging situations, navigate transitions with a sense of calm, and build meaningful relationships.


Contact us today to learn more about how office-based or equine-assisted services can help you develop DBT skills and build a life worth living!

Still not sure if DBT is the fit for you?   Learn more!

Child Mind: What is DBT?

Behavioral Tech: DBT Resources for Clients and Families

DBT Skills and Information

Screen Shot 2019-04-08 at 6.18.54 PM