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What is DBT and What is DBT Therapy?

When a person is prone to self-harm or unhealthy behavior, it can be hard to observe. In years past, there wasn’t anything that loved ones could do for a person in this state of mind. In recent years, Dialectical Behavior Therapy techniques were introduced.

To have a better understanding of DBT, we need to breakdown what dialectical is and what it means. Dialectical is the understanding of how two things that appear opposite can be the same. The DBT skills include learning how to accept you for yourself while changing your behavior. These skills:

1). Accepting who you are and

2). Realizing you can improve, can seem contracting, and yet have the same goal of making a person better overall.

What is DBT?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy, aka DBT, is therapy implemented to teach a person skill sets that help them regulate their emotions. By learning how to regulate their emotions, they can avoid self-destructive behaviors like eating disorders, suicide, substance use disorders, and other unhealthy behaviors. 

Problematic behaviors typically evolve as a person cope with situations or tries to solve a problem in an unpleasant or unorthodox way.  Because these types of behavior are only providing temporary relief, they aren’t effective for the long-term.  With DBT therapy, a patient learns to accept they are doing the best they can in a situation, but they can do better with learned behavior skills.

DBT therapy

What Is DBT Therapy?

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy. Like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, DBT therapy techniques can be used to identify the thought process of persons suffering from such characteristics of destructive behavior. Using DBT skills training that are taught, a person can learn how to change their negative thinking and redirect their thoughts toward positive behavioral changes.

With the skills that are taught through DBT, a person can learn to accept themselves and their downfalls while learning how to work through those moments. While personality disorder was the first focus of DBT, self-harm has come into focus now. Today, in-person or online Dialectical therapy is used to help those who have intense emotions they can’t control.

DBT self-harm and DBT techniques for anxiety strategies that are taught can help a person that finds self-satisfaction from any of the following:

  • Overeating
  • Undereating
  • Self-inflicted pain
  • Suicide
  • Other behavioral issues

What is DBT skills training?

DBT skills training is designed to help a person to understand their feelings and accept them as a real feeling. DBT skills training will focus on teaching a person with intense emotions how to manage those feelings. DBT self-help therapy will teach a person with this behavior how to make positive changes.

NYC mental health services often include DBT Skills Training groups for clients that need to learn effective ways of coping with intense emotions and addictive behaviors. This DBT skills training also includes learning to cope with relationship struggles and ways to reduce self-destructive behavior by learning ways that are more adaptive in managing painful emotions, using four core skills that are taught during this training.

These four skills, sometimes referred to as modules, are active ingredients in DBT therapy. Those four skills or modules are:

  • Mindfulness
  • Distress Tolerance
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness
  • Emotion Regulation

To get a closer view of these four skills and how they help a person learn to cope with emotional distress in a positive and productive way, they each offer the following:

DBT therapy


Mindfulness is a skill of being aware of what is happening in the present and learn to accept this happening. The patient is taught how not to have judgement while noticing and accepting their feelings and thoughts. In the context of DBT skills training, mindfulness is broken into two skills:

The “what” skill teaches the patient to focus on the “what”, which can include any of the following:

  • the present
  • awareness in the present
  • emotions, sensations, and thoughts
  • separate those emotions and sensations from their thoughts

The “how” skill teaches the patient “how” to be more mindful by using these DBT techniques:

  • balance rational thoughts with their emotions
  • use radical acceptance to tolerate aspects of themselves without harming anyone including themself
  • take effective action
  • use their taught mindfulness skills regularly
  • overcome things that makes mindfulness difficult, such as doubt, restlessness, and sleepiness

Distress tolerance

Mindfulness skill can go a long way, but in times of crisis, it may not be enough. Distress tolerance are a set of skill that takes over at that point, helping the client through challenging moments without coping using destructive techniques.

In times of crisis, everyone has certain coping mechanisms that help them with their emotions. For some, avoidance or self-isolation may help us to feel better as it quickly removes stress, but it isn’t much help otherwise. A client undergoing DBT therapy may have angry outbursts, turn to substances, inflict self-harm, and often are quite miserable. Afterall, who wouldn’t be when it seems that as soon as one crisis is over another one arrives.

With distress tolerance skills, the client will learn how:

  • distract themself until they are calm and able to deal with the emotion or situation
  • self-soothe by using their senses to feel get through the crisis
  • discover ways to improve the moment despite any difficulty or pain
  • list pros and cons to compare coping strategies

Interpersonal effectiveness

Relating with others can be hard for some people that have intense emotions with rapid changes in their moods. This makes it difficult to relate to others, so by learning to know how they feel and what they want is important in building connections that are fulfilling.

With the DBT skill of interpersonal effectiveness, the client learns how to be clear on things using assertive training, listening skills, and social skills. These skills and training help them to learn how stay true to their own values while changing situations. They also allow you to keep family, friends, partners, and co-workers in your life.

These skills consist of:

  • objective effectiveness, the patient learns how to ask for what they want and to take steps to get what they want
  • interpersonal effectiveness, is a DBT skill of learning how to work through challenges and conflicts with a relationship
  • self-respect effectiveness, a DBT skill for the patient to learn how to build more respect for themselves and learning to say no to things.

Emotion regulation

Sometimes, clients in DBT therapy feel like there isn’t any escape from their emotions. They learn how to manage their emotions with help. Emotion regulation skills that are taught during DBT therapy helps the patient learn how to deal with their primary emotional reactions to heading into a chain reaction of distressing secondary reactions. An example would be anger, the primary emotion leading to depression, guilt, shame, and worthlessness.

Emotion regulation skills teach a client to:

  • recognize their emotions
  • overcome emotional barriers to have positive effects
  • reduce their vulnerability
  • increase their emotions that create positive effects
  • be more mindful of emotions without judgement
  • expose themself to their emotions
  • avoid emotional urges
  • find helpful ways to solve problems
  • learn to accept that feeling emotions more than others is just part of their biological makeup

What are some DBT Techniques?

DBT therapy techniques have evolved into an evidence-based psychotherapy approach used in treating many conditions. There are different settings for DBT therapy including:

  • Group DBT therapy settings where all the clients are taught behavioral skills.
  • Individual DBT therapy with a trained professional teaches the client behavioral skills adapted to their personal challenges in life.
  • Phone coaching DBT therapy where the client can speak to their therapist in between sessions and receive guidance on how to cope with a current difficult situation.


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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