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What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

Clinically Reviewed by: Dr. Robin Campbell, LMFT, PHD

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, developed by renowned psychologist Dr. Marsha Linehan in the late 1980s, emerged from a synthesis of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and Eastern mindfulness practices. Initially created to address the needs of individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD), DBT has since evolved into a versatile therapeutic approach embraced for its effectiveness in treating a myriad of mental health conditions. If you or a loved one are seeking compassionate and effective treatment utilizing DBT, consider reaching out to New Hope Healthcare Institute. Our experienced team is dedicated to providing personalized care and support to help you on your journey towards healing and wellness. Contact us today at 866-806-1027 to learn more about our comprehensive DBT program and take the first step towards a brighter future.

Core Principles of DBT

At the heart of DBT lie several core principles that form the foundation of its therapeutic framework:

  • Dialectics:
    • Interconnectedness of Opposing Truths: DBT recognizes that life is often characterized by paradoxes and contradictions. Individuals may simultaneously experience conflicting emotions, thoughts, and desires. Dialectics emphasizes the interconnectedness of these opposing truths and encourages individuals to find a synthesis between acceptance and change.
    • Balancing Acceptance and Change: Central to DBT is the notion of finding a balance between accepting oneself and one’s circumstances while also striving for positive change. This balance acknowledges the importance of acknowledging reality as it is while working towards improving it.
    • Integration of Contradictory Perspectives: DBT encourages individuals to embrace contradictory perspectives without feeling compelled to choose one over the other. This approach fosters flexibility and openness to multiple viewpoints, allowing for greater adaptability and problem-solving skills.
    • Navigating Internal Conflicts: By embracing dialectical thinking, individuals learn to navigate internal conflicts and ambivalence more effectively. Instead of viewing conflicting thoughts or emotions as a source of distress, DBT teaches individuals to explore and integrate these opposing aspects of themselves, leading to greater self-awareness and emotional resilience.
  • Validation:
    • Acknowledging and Affirming Experiences: Validation in DBT involves acknowledging and affirming the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of individuals without judgment or criticism. This validation creates a safe and supportive therapeutic environment where individuals feel heard, understood, and accepted.
    • Non-judgmental Attitude: DBT therapists adopt a non-judgmental attitude towards their clients, recognizing that every individual’s experiences are valid and worthy of respect. This attitude helps reduce feelings of shame, guilt, and self-doubt, facilitating a deeper sense of self-acceptance and self-compassion.
    • Building Trust and Rapport: Validation fosters trust and rapport between the therapist and client, creating a foundation for effective communication and collaboration. When individuals feel validated and understood, they are more likely to engage actively in the therapeutic process and work towards their goals.
    • Promoting Self-Worth: Through validation, individuals develop a greater sense of self-worth and confidence in their abilities. By affirming their experiences and emotions, DBT helps individuals recognize their intrinsic value and strengths, empowering them to make positive changes in their lives.
  • Behavioral Techniques:
    • Evidence-Based Strategies: DBT incorporates a wide range of evidence-based behavioral techniques derived from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other therapeutic modalities. These techniques are carefully selected based on their effectiveness in promoting behavior change and improving overall functioning.
    • Skill-Building: A key focus of DBT is on skill-building in areas such as emotion regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and mindfulness. Clients learn practical strategies and tools to cope with challenging situations, regulate their emotions, and navigate interpersonal relationships more effectively.
    • Structured Learning: DBT sessions are structured and organized, providing a clear framework for learning and practicing new skills. Clients engage in structured exercises, role-plays, and homework assignments to reinforce learning and facilitate skill acquisition.
    • Empowerment: By mastering behavioral techniques, individuals feel empowered to take control of their lives and make positive changes. DBT emphasizes the role of personal agency and self-efficacy in achieving meaningful outcomes, encouraging individuals to become active participants in their own healing journey.
  • Mindfulness:
    • Present-Moment Awareness: Mindfulness in DBT involves cultivating present-moment awareness and non-judgmental observation of one’s thoughts, emotions, sensations, and surroundings. This heightened awareness allows individuals to experience life more fully and authentically, free from the constraints of past regrets or future anxieties.
    • Acceptance of Internal Experiences: DBT encourages individuals to accept their internal experiences, including thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, without trying to change or suppress them. This acceptance fosters a sense of inner peace and equanimity, even in the face of difficult emotions or challenging circumstances.
    • Disengagement from Reactivity: Through mindfulness practice, individuals learn to disengage from automatic patterns of reactivity and impulsivity. By cultivating a mindful attitude, individuals can respond to situations with greater clarity, intentionality, and wisdom, rather than reacting impulsively out of habit or emotion.
    • Enhanced Emotional Regulation: Mindfulness practice has been shown to enhance emotional regulation skills, allowing individuals to experience emotions more fully without becoming overwhelmed or dysregulated. By developing a greater capacity to tolerate and regulate emotions, individuals can navigate life’s ups and downs with greater resilience and ease.

The Four Modules of DBT

DBT is structured around four interconnected modules, each addressing distinct aspects of human experience and functioning:

  1. Emotion Regulation:
    • Identifying Emotions: Emotion regulation in DBT begins with helping individuals identify and label their emotions accurately. This process involves developing awareness of the various emotions they experience, including subtle nuances and differences between them.
    • Understanding Triggers: DBT teaches individuals to recognize the triggers or situations that often lead to intense emotional reactions. By understanding the underlying causes of their emotions, individuals can gain insight into why they react in certain ways and develop strategies to manage these triggers effectively.
    • Regulating Emotions: Once individuals have identified their emotions and triggers, DBT provides them with practical strategies to regulate their emotions. These strategies may include techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, cognitive reframing, and mindfulness exercises.
    • Building Resilience: Through ongoing practice, individuals learn to navigate emotional storms with greater resilience and stability. They develop a toolbox of skills that empower them to cope with intense emotions without becoming overwhelmed or resorting to harmful coping mechanisms.
  2. Interpersonal Effectiveness:
    • Effective Communication: Interpersonal effectiveness in DBT involves learning effective communication skills to express one’s needs, desires, and boundaries assertively and respectfully. Individuals learn to communicate clearly, directly, and assertively, while also listening actively and being empathetic to others.
    • Assertiveness: DBT helps individuals develop assertiveness skills, enabling them to advocate for themselves and assert their rights and boundaries in interpersonal interactions. This includes learning how to say “no” without feeling guilty or being overly aggressive.
    • Boundary-Setting: Setting healthy boundaries is essential for maintaining healthy relationships. DBT teaches individuals how to set and enforce boundaries effectively, protecting their own needs and well-being while also respecting the boundaries of others.
    • Conflict Resolution: DBT equips individuals with conflict resolution skills to navigate interpersonal conflicts constructively and collaboratively. These skills include problem-solving, compromise, and negotiation techniques to resolve conflicts in a way that preserves relationships and promotes mutual understanding.
  3. Distress Tolerance:
    • Tolerating Distress: Distress tolerance skills in DBT focus on helping individuals tolerate and endure distressing situations without resorting to harmful coping mechanisms. This involves learning to accept reality as it is without trying to change it, even when it’s uncomfortable or painful.
    • Acceptance of Pain: DBT emphasizes the importance of accepting pain and discomfort as a natural part of life. Instead of avoiding or suppressing distressing emotions or situations, individuals learn to acknowledge and validate their experiences without judgment.
    • Crisis Survival: DBT provides individuals with practical strategies to manage crisis situations effectively. These strategies include distraction techniques, self-soothing activities, and reaching out for support from trusted individuals or professionals.
    • Promoting Resilience: By developing distress tolerance skills, individuals build resilience and adaptability, enabling them to weather life’s challenges with greater ease and grace. They learn to bounce back from setbacks and adversity, emerging stronger and more resilient than before.
  4. Mindfulness Skills:
    • Present-Moment Awareness: Mindfulness practices in DBT cultivate present-moment awareness, allowing individuals to experience life fully and authentically. By focusing on the present moment, individuals learn to let go of worries about the past or future and connect more deeply with their inner experiences and external surroundings.
    • Non-Judgmental Observation: DBT encourages non-judgmental observation of one’s thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Instead of reacting impulsively or critically to their experiences, individuals learn to observe them with curiosity, openness, and acceptance.
    • Self-Compassion: Mindfulness promotes self-compassion by encouraging individuals to treat themselves with kindness, understanding, and empathy. Instead of being self-critical or harsh, individuals learn to extend compassion towards themselves, especially during times of difficulty or suffering.
    • Clarity and Equanimity: By cultivating mindfulness skills, individuals develop clarity of mind and emotional equanimity, enabling them to respond to life’s challenges with calmness, wisdom, and resilience. They learn to navigate uncertainty and adversity with grace and dignity, finding inner peace amidst the storms of life.

Tailored Treatment at New Hope Healthcare Institute

At New Hope Healthcare Institute, we recognize that each individual’s journey towards healing is unique. Our DBT program is tailored to meet the specific needs, goals, and preferences of each client, ensuring a personalized and holistic approach to treatment. Here’s what sets our DBT program apart:

  • Comprehensive Assessment: We conduct a thorough assessment to identify the underlying issues and challenges contributing to your distress, allowing us to design a targeted treatment plan.
  • Individual Therapy: Clients receive individual therapy sessions with skilled clinicians trained in DBT, providing a supportive and therapeutic space to explore personal concerns, set goals, and work towards healing.
  • Skills Training Groups: Our DBT program includes skills training groups where clients learn and practice DBT skills in a supportive group environment, fostering peer support, connection, and learning.
  • Phone Coaching: Clients have access to phone coaching between sessions, allowing for real-time support and guidance in applying DBT skills to daily life challenges.
  • Integration with Complementary Therapies: In addition to DBT, we integrate complementary therapies such as art therapy, yoga, and mindfulness-based practices to enhance overall well-being and promote holistic healing.

Call New Hope Healthcare Institute Today!

Ready to embark on your journey toward healing and transformation with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy? Contact New Hope Healthcare Institute today at 866-806-1027 to learn more about our DBT program and take the first step towards reclaiming your life. Check out our blog where we post weekly on Medium.


DBT treatment duration varies depending on individual needs and progress. It often involves a combination of weekly individual therapy sessions, skills training groups, and phone coaching over several months to a year or more.

A typical DBT session may include reviewing homework assignments, discussing progress and challenges, learning new skills, and setting goals for the upcoming week. Individual therapy sessions and skills training groups are integral components of DBT treatment.

Many insurance plans offer coverage for DBT as part of mental health treatment. Our intake coordinators can assist you in verifying your insurance coverage and exploring payment options.

Yes, DBT has been shown to be effective for individuals of all ages. At New Hope Healthcare Institute, we offer DBT programs tailored specifically for teens and adults, addressing the unique developmental and treatment needs of each group.

If you’re uncertain about DBT or whether it’s the right approach for you, we encourage you to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our experienced clinicians. We can discuss your concerns, assess your needs, and explore the most suitable treatment options for you.

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