DBT: What is it and how does it help?

Dbt 01
Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, is a type of therapy that focuses on validation and acceptance. DBT is beneficial because of its effectiveness for many different types of “problems.” DBT was created by Marsha Linehan, a woman who once struggled with mental illness herself.

Three main concepts of DBT

There are 3 main concepts in DBT which include: validation (acceptance), dialectics, and mindfulness. I mentioned validation already, but what is it?  Validation is about making someone feel understood. Linehan realized that many of her clients came from “invalidating environments,” which is an environment where someone feels judged, ridiculed, or basically that the way he/she feels is wrong. Linehan believed it was extremely important to show these individuals acceptance and that people have the right to feel however they do. Therefore, a DBT therapist validates the clients’ feelings, but then also brings awareness to them. If it is something negative or maladaptive, then the therapist teaches more positive behaviors and skills (Read, 2013).

The second main concept in DBT is the importance of the dialectic, which is when there are 2 seemingly opposite ideas, but they are brought together. For example, if we have the colors black and white, the dialectic would not be grey, which is the combination of these colors. Rather, the dialectic would be black and white, perhaps in a zebra pattern. The underlying dialectic in DBT is acceptance and change, and that is how (Dialectic)al Behavior Therapy got its name (Swales, Heard, & Williams, 2000). Counselors will emphasize change withacceptance.

The final main concept in DBT is that there is strong focus on mindfulness, which is about making contact with our present experiences without judgment. It allows us to increase our acceptance of unwanted or distressing thoughts or feelings. Practicing mindfulness allows us to pay attention to the moment. It is the opposite of being mindless, such as when we do tasks on “auto-pilot.”

How DBT will help

Often times, people do not want to talk about their problems…they just want to forget about them. Unfortunately, that usually does not work because pain does not disappear. It can come out in various unhealthy ways, such as using substances, self-harm, anger, etc. DBT supports the idea that if someone tries to escape or avoid their painful emotion, it actually increases their suffering. Therefore, counselors validate clients by acknowledging that emotional pain is real and understandable.

Finally, DBT will also help you because you will learn skills from the following categories: mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. The first 2 fall into the acceptance category and the second 2 are in the change category. Mindfulness, as mentioned before, is about accepting one’s emotions and being fully engaged in the present moment. Distress tolerance is about getting through an intense moment, despite feeling strong feelings or urges. Emotion regulation focuses on recognizing one’s emotions and learning how to react to them in a better way. Lastly, interpersonal effectiveness requires clients to learn how to effectively communicate with others and get their needs met (Read, 2013). All in all, DBT is very successful and can help you live your best life.

By Counselor

Biljana (“BiBi”) Naumovski, MA, LPC


Read, K. (2013). Instructor’s manual for Dialectical Behavior Therapy with Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. Mill Valley, CA:

Swales, M., Heard, H. L., & Williams, M. G. (2000). Linehan’s dialectical behaviour thera  (DBT) for borderline personality disorder: Overview and adaptation. Journal of Mental Health9(1), 7-23. doi:10.1080/09638230016921

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