Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most commonly practiced forms of psychotherapy today. It’s focus is on helping people learn how their thoughts color and can actually change their feelings and behaviors. It is usually time-limited and goal-focused as practiced by most psychotherapists in the U.S. today.
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a specific form of cognitive-behavioral therapy. DBT seeks to build upon the foundation of CBT, to help enhance its effectiveness and address specific concerns that the founder of DBT, psychologist Marsha Linehan, saw as deficits in CBT.
DBT emphasizes the psychosocial aspects of treatment — how a person interacts with others in different environments and relationships. The theory behind the approach is that some people are prone to react in a more intense and out-of-the-ordinary manner toward certain emotional situations, primarily those found in romantic, family and friend relationships. DBT was originally designed to help treat people with borderline personality disorder, but is now used to treat a wide range of concerns.
DBT theory suggests that some people’s arousal levels in certain situations can increase far more quickly than the average person’s. This leads a person to attain a much higher level of emotional stimulation than normal, and it may take a significant amount of time to return to normal emotional arousal levels.
DBT differs in practice in one important way. In addition to individual, weekly psychotherapy sessions, most DBT treatment also features a weekly group therapy component. In these group sessions, people learn skills from one of four different modules: interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance/reality acceptance skills, emotion regulation, and mindfulness skills. A group setting is an ideal place to learn and practice these skills, because it offers a safe and supportive environment.
Both CBT and DBT can incorporate exploring an individual’s past or history, to help an individual better understand how it may have impacted their current situation. However, discussion of one’s past is not a focus in either form of therapy, nor is it a differentiation between the two forms (it is completely dependent upon the individual psychotherapist).
Whether cognitive-behavior therapy or dialectical behavior therapy is right for you is a determination best made in conjunction with an experienced therapist. Both types of psychotherapy have strong research backing and have been proven to help a person with a wide range of mental health concerns.