Dialectical Behavior Therapy 

Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., created dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) in the late 1970s. She is a professor at the University of Washington and has extensively researched suicidal patients,  those with borderline personality disorder, and others with emotional and relational difficulties. She created this methodology that has been well researched to effectively treat those who struggle to regulate their emotions and behaviors. She is also a Zen master and teaches mindfulness.

 Emotional Dysregulation 

Dr. Linehan teaches that the consequences of emotional dysregulation can lead to the following:

  • Poor sense of identify
  • Poor interpersonal relationships

She explains in her methodology that a sense of self is formed by observations of oneself and others’ reactions to one’s actions. Emotional dysregulation makes it challenging to observe oneself and can lead to others’ unhelpful responses to the dysregulation.

Effective interpersonal relationships need the following:

  • A stable sense of self
  • Spontaneous expression of emotion
  • Capacity for self-regulation of emotions
  • Tolerance of emotionally painful stimuli

When someone doesn’t have a solid sense of self and cannot identify, express, regulate, and tolerate emotions, chaotic relationships can develop. To treat the poor identity formation and dysfunctional relationship dynamics, she created skills for clients to practice.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Skill # 1 Mindfulness –A foundational identity (your sense of self) building block is mindfulness of your inner and outer world without judgment. Dr. Linehan noted mindfulness could be described as “The skills to consciously experience and observe oneself and surrounding events with curiosity and without judgment; to see and articulate reality as it is; to participate in the flow of the present moment effectively” (Lineham, 2015, p.11). ***Mindfulness is foundational for all the skills that Dr. Lineham teaches.*** Thus, learning mindfulness is a key skill learned in DBT.

Skill #2 Distress Tolerance — The skills needed to tolerate stressful situations

Skill #3 Emotional Regulation — The skills needed to regulate big emotions

Skill #4 Interpersonal Effectiveness — The skills to get what you need and want from others

If you are interested in learning dialectical behavior therapy skills with one of our therapists, you can contact us now. Click here.

Linehan, M.M. (2015). DBT Skills Training Manual (2nd ed.). The Guildford Press.

Author: Dara Fields, APCC
Family Dynamics Resource Center
Associate Professional Clinical Counselor (APCC)