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What is DBT?

DBT stands for Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It is a specific kind of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. DBT was originally developed in the 1970s to treat borderline personality disorder but has since been shown effective in treating other conditions, including depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse.

DBT focuses on teaching for main skills, working with a therapist, a group, or both. The skills, or modules, are mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and emotional regulation. Two of these skills–mindfulness and distress tolerance–focus on accepting the things you can’t change, while the other two–emotional regulation and interpersonal effectiveness–focus on changing the things you can. The dialectic in Dialectical Behavior Therapy comes from the interplay of the fixed and the fixable.

This approach grew out of the problems of treating borderline personality disorder. It’s a disorder that causes rapid mood swings and emotional outbursts. People with borderline personality disorder often fall prey to black-or-white thinking and their interpersonal relationships tend to be fraught with drama and conflict. This is why interpersonal effectiveness is one of the core modules. You can’t, however, rely only on interpersonal skills without also learning some emotional control. This is why the core skills are mutually reinforcing.

It’s easy to see how this framework can be effective for treating addiction. Each of these core skills is important in recovery. Addiction often begins with an inability to cope with distress, whether it’s physical or emotional. Once the pattern of using to escape distress is established, it becomes habitual. It’s crucial in recovery to become mindful of your patterns, learn to regulate your emotions when you can, and tolerate discomfort when you can’t regulate it.

Interpersonal effectiveness is important for addiction too. A lot of our stress–perhaps most of it–comes from interacting with other people and that stress is multiplied if we interact unskillfully. That is, we can create a lot of stress for ourselves by not communicating effectively with others. Sometimes interpersonal stress is from ordinary friction that could be easily avoided, but sometimes it’s direct pressure from friends or loved ones. Having unsupportive friends or family make recovery difficult and improving your interpersonal effectiveness can help you manage that pressure.

DBT can be used to treat addiction directly, or it can be used to treat issues driving the addiction–depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, or, for that matter, borderline personality disorder, which was what it was originally developed for.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at to learn more.