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Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT): What It Is and How it Can Help

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is a version of talking therapies that are based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques that are specially adapted for certain individuals who feel emotions very deeply and intensely.

The purpose of DBT is to help you:

  • Understand your emotions and how to process and accept these difficult feelings
  • Learn precise skills and coping mechanisms to manage these intense feelings when they arise
  • Make positive decisions and changes to your life and lifestyle

DBT aims to help you understand that two opposite results can both be possibly true, for example, DBT will teach you that you can accept yourself and change your behaviour is achievable simultaneously.

The facts

It’s just not as simple as turning a frown upside down. Some people are just unable to regulate their emotions.

For many people, managing their emotions can be extremely difficult, especially when they feel very intensely, which can mean they can be affected by what others might perceive as small, trivial things.

But it is a serious issue of which many people end their lives over.

DBT, therefore, works to implement various skills, which can help ride the waves of depression rather than let these feelings engulf you.

Signs and symptoms of emotional dysregulation

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Have you ever heard?:

  • You’re overreacting
  • You’re just sensitive 
  • Stop being overly dramatic

Do you hear these comments from loved ones? Do you struggle to manage your emotions? If so, please know that what you are feeling is very real.

Do you experience the following…

  • Do you experience extreme mood swings, anxiety, crying fits or outbursts of sudden anger?
  • You’re constantly afraid that you people will abandon you
  • You react extremely to events that are outside of your control
  • It’s difficult for you to trust others and feel suspicious of other people’s motives
  • You feel empty, emotionally numb, lonely and often isolated
  • Feelings of empathy towards others can sometimes be hard
  • You crave the feeling of being close to other people, however, intense emotions can push them away
  • There are situations where you avoid conflict and other times where you can create it
  • Self-harm has crossed your mind
  • You do or sometimes engage in risky behaviour like substance abuse, gambling, over-spending or dangerous driving. It is also likely you might experience an eating disorder.
  • It is unclear what you want from or in life, you may frequently switch jobs, friends and even goals
  • You might experience dissociation, or feel like you are watching yourself from outside your body

Emotional dysregulation could be a result of biological writing or even derive from experienced trauma or personality disorders.

Therapy to help regulate intense emotions

Whilst you may fear these emotions, a therapist can help guide you to take back control of your life and teach you the core skills required to regulate your emotions and transform your relationships once again.

Research has shown that DBT can treat:

Gaining control of intense emotions

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DBT treatment sessions can vary per provider,  however, these type of sessions will usually include 1-1 therapy and skills training in groups.

DBT will only work if:

  • You are committed to positive change
  • You are prepared to work hard during your therapy and assignments
  • You’re ready to leave your past behind and focus on the present and future
  • You’re willing to do group sessions

You can expect to learn acceptance techniques that will focus on how to understand yourself as a person and help you to make sense of the reasons why you might behave negatively with drug misuse or self-harm.

Changing these techniques will help you to replace behaviours that harm you with behaviours that uplift you.

This will mean that your therapist might challenge unhelpful thoughts and encourage you to discover new ways to deal with your distress.

The difference between DBT and CBT

  • CBT focuses on changing unhelpful ways of thinking, speaking and behaving.
  • DBT will touch on this too, however, it focuses more on accepting the way you are at the same time. DBT can sometimes involve more group work than CBT, and a therapist will expect you to work hard to make positive changes in your life.

DBT strategies

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Acceptance and change:

Expect to learn strategies that will help you to accept and tolerate your life’s circumstances, emotions and the way you operate.

The skills you will develop aim to bring about positive change in your life, which can improve your behaviours and interactions with others.


DBT will help you look inside and analyse the problems and the destructive patterns that can destroy your life.

Here, DBT will replace these negative thought patterns and instead replace them with healthier and more effective processes.


The focus will primarily be on changing thoughts, beliefs, actions and behaviours which are unhelpful to your life.


Expect your communication skills to increase as you will learn how to communicate better and how to discuss your issues as a team with therapists, individuals and psychiatrists.


Core skills and coping mechanisms to enhance your capabilities.


You will be uplifted and encouraged to recognise each of your positive strengths and how to effectively use them.

Accessing DBT therapies

There are numerous ways you can access this therapy, for example, it could be part of your residential program at a rehab like Castle Craig, or you may seek this privately through a therapist.

There is currently no official register for DBT therapists in the UK, however, it also accessible via the NHS through a referral from your doctor.

If you need help getting started talk to us here, or visit your local GP.

Be aware

DBT was originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD) and you are more likely to be offered this treatment if you accept a diagnosis of this disorder.

But BPD is a controversial diagnosis, and if you do not like using these terms then you are not alone.

In this case, you might be able to remember that whichever way you understand your problems that DBT could help you manage them.

Learn more about treating addiction

Last Updated on April 29, 2021 by