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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a type of psychotherapy. It can be used during the treatment of several mental health conditions. DBT uses many of the same skills used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). However, DBT focuses more on accepting emotional discomfort instead of avoiding it.

This article will explore dialectical behavior therapy and how it is used. You will learn:

  • What happens in DBT
  • What conditions DBT can treat
  • The benefits of using DBT in addiction treatment
  • Where to find DBT and addiction treatment

Contact the specialists at the Carolina Center for Recovery to explore our addiction and DBT treatment programs. Our intake staff will help you find the right treatment to meet your needs and schedule an intake appointment.

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a comprehensive form of therapy. Trained therapists teach behavioral skills that can help people identify and change destructive thoughts and behaviors.[1]

During therapy sessions, therapists may use a range of techniques, including:

  • Telling stories
  • Providing feedback
  • Guiding practice
  • Providing instructions
  • Coaching

Here is an overview of the areas of focus DBT includes.


Mindfulness is one of the core aspects of dialectical behavior therapy. People learn how to stay focused in the present moment. They observe what is happening internally by focusing on the thoughts, sensations, impulses, and feelings they are experiencing.

Practicing mindfulness can help people use healthy coping skills when experiencing intense emotions or negative thoughts.

Emotional regulation

People learn to identify, name, and change the negative aspects of their intense emotions. They learn to create “opposite actions” in response to intense thoughts and feelings. This can reduce harmful behaviors.

Interpersonal effectiveness

People in DBT treatment may have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships with others. DBT can help people increase their ability to make and maintain healthy relationships. They learn to set and maintain healthy boundaries and improve communication.

Distress tolerance

Learning how to tolerate emotional discomfort can help people have more control over their reactions. During DBT sessions, people work with their therapist to develop healthy coping skills, including self-soothing and distraction. These skills can help people cope with intense feelings and develop optimism about the future.

DBT focuses on helping people manage their emotions and change their behaviors. People may participate in individual therapy sessions or work on DBT skills in a group setting. DBT participants may also contact their therapist for phone coaching sessions as needed.

Who Might Benefit from Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

Dr. Marsha Linehan and others developed dialectical behavior therapy in the 1980s to treat women with suicidal ideation and borderline personality disorder.[2] Today, therapists use DBT strategies to treat a wide range of conditions, including:

  • Borderline personality disorder and other personality disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance abuse disorder (SUD)

DBT teaches valuable skills that can improve people’s quality of life. It may be beneficial to people living with substance use disorder (SUD) and other conditions.

Using DBT in Addiction Treatment

Research shows that DBT is an effective treatment for people living with personality disorder and SUD.[3] Studies suggest that people who have not benefited from other types of evidence-based addiction treatments.

During an addiction treatment program, participants receive tailored therapies to address their unique needs. People living with substance use disorder may benefit from participating in treatment using DBT and other evidence-based therapies.

Comprehensive addiction treatment programs provide support for a person’s body and mind. Here is what to expect from an addiction treatment program.


Before you begin treatment, a doctor or addiction specialist will assess your needs. The assessment may include:

  • Questions about your current and past substance use
  • A mental health and medical history
  • A family history of addiction, mental health conditions, and treatment
  • A physical examination
  • Lab testing

This information will help your treatment team recommend the correct level of care and tailor your plan to meet your needs.


You may experience withdrawal symptoms as your body detoxifies. During your detox program, medical and mental health professionals will monitor your symptoms and provide treatment as needed.

Your detox treatment plan may include:

  • Medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms
  • Mental health treatment
  • Emotional support, including individual and group therapy when appropriate
  • Mindfulness, nutrition support, exercise, and other holistic therapies
  • A secure environment
  • Round-the-clock supervision and access to treatment

The care you receive during a detox program will ensure you remain safe and comfortable throughout the process.


Your treatment program will begin as soon as you complete detox. You may attend inpatient rehab or participate in outpatient treatment.

Your treatment program may include:

  • Medications
  • Dialectical behavior therapy sessions
  • Individual, group, and family counseling
  • Relapse prevention education
  • Holistic therapies, including art therapy, massage, yoga, nutrition support, and more
  • Mental health and medical care
  • Aftercare planning

Using DBT in addiction treatment can give you the skills you need to address the complex roots of your substance abuse. Contact the Carolina Center for Recovery team today to learn more about dialectical behavior therapy and addiction treatment.


  1. National Institutes of Health (NIH): Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  2. The American Journal of Psychotherapy: The Course and Evolution of Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  3. National Institutes of Health (NIH): Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Substance Abusers