DBT Explained

What is DBT?

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is a form of talking therapy. Based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), it has been adapted to help people who experience emotions very intensely. While CBT focuses on helping you change unhelpful ways of thinking and behaving, DBT also focuses on accepting who you are at the same time. It places particular importance on the relationship between you and your therapist, and this relationship is used to actively motivate you to change.

The aim of DBT is to help you learn to manage your difficult emotions by letting yourself experience, recognise and accept them. Through this you also become more able to change harmful behaviour.

‘Dialectics’ means trying to balance opposite positions and look at how they go together. In DBT, you will work with your therapist to find a good balance between accepting yourself as you are and making positive changes in your life. Eventually, you might come realise these goals are not as conflicting as they first seem. For example, understanding and accepting yourself, your experiences and your emotions, can help you learn to deal with your feelings in a different way.

Who Is It For?

DBT was originally developed as a treatment for borderline personality disorder (BPD), but it is also offered to children and adolescents, people with drug and alcohol problems, eating problems and offending behaviour.

DBT can also be useful for anyone struggling with their emotions, interpersonal relationships, or any unhelpful behaviours. For example, research shows DBT can be used to tackle problems such as self-harm, suicide attempts and risky behaviours.

What is DBT Like?

DBT uses a combination of acceptance and change techniques. Acceptance techniques focus on understanding yourself as a person and making sense of harmful behaviour. Change techniques encourage you to change your behaviour and learn more effective ways of dealing with your distress. They encourage you to replace behaviours that are harmful with behaviours that can help you move forward with your life.

The way DBT is delivered can vary, but there are typically three different types of DBT sessions, and they often run alongside each other.

  1. Individual therapy – This typically involves weekly one-to-one sessions with a DBT therapist. The aim of these sessions is to keep you safe, reduce behaviours that interfere with therapy, help you reach your goals and learn new skills to replace unhelpful behaviours.
  2. Skills training in groups – In these sessions, DBT therapists teach you skills in a group setting. It isn’t group therapy, but more like a series of teaching sessions. The skills covered usually include mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotion regulation.
  3. Telephone crisis coaching with a therapist – This approach is used to support you in using new skills in your day-to-day life. You can call your therapist between sessions when you need help the most, for example if you’re dealing with an immediate crisis (such as feeling suicidal or the urge to self-harm). Your therapist will set clear boundaries. For example, calls are usually brief and the hours you can call them will be agreed between you and your therapist.


You can learn more about how DBT is delivered here. At Yorkshire Psychotherapy, we have a team of experienced DBT Practitioners who can offer both DBT skills training and DBT therapy. Get in touch to find out more.

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