Finding a Qualified DBT Therapist

By Jeanette Lorandini

Whether you’re in search of a quality DBT therapist for yourself or a loved one, it can be challenging to navigate the process and determine who is truly qualified to offer the support you’re seeking.

If you’re looking for a therapist that can help you manage emotions and navigate challenging life circumstances, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) may be right for you. However, how do you find the right therapist? Who is truly qualified to practice DBT?

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to navigate and find a highly trained DBT therapist. With this being said, finding a quality DBT adherent therapist that can offer comprehensive mental health services is greatly worth the investment.

What is DBT?

After hearing all of this, you might be wondering, “what exactly is DBT?” Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a specialized cognitive-behavioral therapy that combines individual therapy with skills- and group-training sessions to help people manage emotions and navigate life’s difficulties.

DBT is best for individuals with psychological disorders who suffer from high levels of emotional vulnerability. Treatment includes clear, easy-to-understand DBT skills that you can learn in weekly skills group therapy sessions. DBT therapists are highly trained, accepting, validating, and help you to maintain the motivation you need to move forward in a positive way.

Suffolk DBT provides high-quality dialectical behavior therapy at their offices in Manhattan and Long Island, New York, as well as online. Highly experienced therapists specialize in serving children, teens, college-aged students, and adults struggling with depression, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, and self-harm.

At Suffolk DBT, the skills we teach include:

  • Mindfulness Skills
  • Distress Tolerance Skills
  • Emotion Regulation Skills
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills
  • Middle Path Skills

According to the creator of DBT, Marsha Linehan, if a clinician is not on a DBT team, they are not practicing DBT. At Suffolk DBT, all of our mental health providers meet together on a weekly basis to support our clients. We receive feedback from one another that allows us to provide you with the best treatment possible and allows you to see significant improvements in functioning.

Young woman dressed in a long-sleeve blue sweatshirt holds her arms uncomfortably while she looks out a window. She had a poor experience with her past clinician and is looking for a DBT clinician who can help her self-injury.

A Case Study – Alyssa

Alyssa was a young woman who had struggled with major depression for a number of years. She had heard about dialectical behavior therapy and its effectiveness and determined that this was the right path for her. She completed a brief search in her local area and found a clinic nearby her apartment that appeared to be a good fit and in-network. She called the clinic to ensure that they practiced DBT, and they confirmed that their clinicians used DBT techniques in their practice.

Over the next few months, Alyssa participated actively in her weekly therapy sessions. However, she wasn’t noticing the changes she’d hoped for. Sure – her therapist had taught her a couple of new skills. But Alyssa felt she was coming up short. Her depression didn’t feel any better managed, and she was continuing to engage in self-harm behaviors that were impacting not only her relationships with others – but also herself. She was beginning to lose hope.

Alyssa began doing additional research and found inconsistencies with what she was reading about DBT and what her therapy sessions looked like. She had not learned all of the skills DBT covers, nor had she been asked to track mood and behaviors using a diary card. She hadn’t received any specific skills coaching, nor had she participated in a skills group.

In her next therapy session, Alyssa asked her therapist a few follow-up questions. Her therapist shared that the clinic did not use a consultative model between therapists. From her research, Alyssa knew this was a key component of DBT. She followed up by asking if the therapist was using DBT. “Well,” the therapist responded, “We all had the chance to take a one-day training and found it very beneficial. We try to incorporate certain components whenever possible.”

Alas, Alyssa had not been receiving true DBT.

With her newfound knowledge, Alyssa found Suffolk DBT. Although discouraged, given her recent experience, she knew she was in the right hands. Within six months at Suffolk, Alyssa had stopped self-harming and was well on her way to achieving a life she truly never thought was possible. Although her journey finding the right DBT adherent therapist was challenging, it was certainly worthwhile.

How to Find a DBT Therapist?

DBT is a highly specialized treatment that requires extensive training, ongoing education, and a team of other DBT-trained clinicians for a provider to collaborate with. This specialization means that there are far fewer DBT therapists than there are general therapists. Additionally, due to the time, energy, and cost of providing DBT services, many therapists with this specialization do not participate with insurance companies.

Although it can be challenging to find a highly trained DBT therapist, you are currently learning the key things to look for in your search. You may want to start with your primary care physician to seek out any suggestions. Additionally, if you have seen other therapists in the past, they may be able to refer you to someone who specializes in DBT techniques.

Additionally, The Linehan Board of Certification provides a public database to identify mental health clinicians who are trained in and offer dialectical behavior therapy. The DBT-LBC certification is the only one endorsed by Dr. Marsha Linehan herself, the creator of DBT. It has been highly researched and relies only on measurable criteria to assess clinician skills.

Many clinicians have attended a one- or two-day training in DBT and consider themselves trained. This is confusing for clients who believe that they are getting a comprehensive treatment plan and become disheartened when the therapy either does not meet their expectations or it does not decrease the problematic behavior(s).

At Suffolk DBT, we are committed to comprehensive DBT, given the ongoing research and effectiveness of DBT. We know that adherence matters in the most significant cases. While the majority of clients would likely find DBT-informed therapy helpful, those struggling with more severe concerns often require more intensive and comprehensive DBT.

DBT-informed therapists—with certification that is not through the Linehan board—should be transparent with their clients to ensure that the client understands what treatment they are truly receiving. We frequently have new clients who believed that they had already been receiving DBT – and we, unfortunately, find out that that was not the case.

When DBT is not done as designed by Dr. Linehan, the results may not be effective and could result in an individual losing hope for their future. Thankfully, once at Suffolk DBT, they quickly find out what it’s supposed to look like with us!

We are listed as a DBT referral on Behavioral Tech, founded by Marsha Linehan.

Questions to Ask Your DBT Therapist

While we always hope that therapists are transparent with new clients, we know that this may not always be the case. Therefore, please remember these important questions to ask when looking for a DBT adherent therapist–

  • Have you completed a 10-day intensive DBT training?
  • Are you a member of a DBT consultation team?
  • Have you been supervised by an expert DBT therapist?
  • Are you familiar with the main sets of DBT strategies (CBT, validation, dialectics)?
  • Do you teach skills, practice behavior analysis, or review diary cards?
  • Do you do phone coaching?
  • How many clients have you treated using DBT?
  • Have you done any post-intensive specialty training?
  • Are you certified by, or working toward, the Linehan Board Certification (DBT-LBC)?

The answers to these questions will give you important information to inform your decision about whether or not you’ve found a DBT-trained therapist. It is your right to ask these questions and to be informed. You deserve a true DBT program that demonstrates only the strongest evidence-based outcomes for your care.

All clinicians at Suffolk DBT have been trained foundationally or intensively by Behavioral Tech. All of our providers are teaching DBT skills, using diary cards, behavioral chain analysis, and participating in phone coaching. We meet weekly as a consultation team, and all clinicians receive weekly supervision. We promote an environment of learning to best meet the needs of our clients.

Finding a qualified DBT therapist shouldn't be so hard. At Suffolk DBT, we support individuals from Long Island to Manhattan to beyond with our specialized therapy.

Insurance Coverage

It’s important to note that if you find the therapists that you’ve been given by your insurance company are not actually DBT-adherent therapists, you can return to your insurance company and request out-of-network authorization for treatment.

If DBT is the recommended treatment of choice and your insurance company cannot find you an in-network DBT adherent therapist, they should offer you a single-case exception. Just because a provider says they offer DBT does not mean they are specialized in DBT.

If your insurance company does not make an exception, you can appeal to the state insurance commissioner. You deserve a treatment plan from a DBT adherent therapist that meets your unique mental health needs.

Concluding Thoughts

To be a DBT therapist is truly an honor—and one that we do not take lightly at Suffolk DBT. Marsha Linehan has set the bar high, and for good reason. It is without hesitation to say that we strive to provide the very best treatment for our clients with a genuine level of commitment. While DBT is not for the faint of heart, it’s where our hearts have led us. As Dr. Linehan said, “It requires a therapist to go where angels fear to tread.”

Suffolk DBT proudly provides quality dialectical behavior therapy, a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, at their offices in Manhattan and Long Island, New York and online. Their experienced NYC therapists specialize in serving teens, children, adults, and college students struggling with depression, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, and self-harm. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills and treatment can help you or your kids to manage emotions and work through life’s challenges.

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