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The Purpose of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

“Everyone does the best they can.” Can you agree with that statement?  It is an underlying assumption adopted by DBT therapists and clients (Linehan, 2014). According to Linehan (2012), the goal of DBT is building a life a life worth living.

how was DBT created?

The founder of DBT, Marsha Linehan, suffered from severe mental health issues throughout her life. She discovered that psychology at that time lacked effective tools to help people with serious disorders like hers.

In response to her own pain, over a period of many years, she developed ways of thinking and living to help her cope with negative self-beliefs, control overwhelm emotions, and stop harmful, impulsive behavior.  She solidified her ideas into a form of therapy accessible to everyone.

DBT is a skills-based approach that targets thought, mind, and emotions (Linehan, 2014). Linehan originally conceptualized DBT to help chronically suicidal women. Today the therapy is used for diverse mental health issues (Linehan, 2021). 

the four categories of dBT

The skills foundational to DBT are divided into four categories (Linehan, 2015). Each category of skills includes safe, scientifically proven, and practical ways for tolerating and coping with mental pain. 

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Mindfulness skills facilitate staying in the here and now.

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Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal Communication skills teach how to improve existing relationships, assist in building healthy connections, and enable one to end those that are unhealthy.

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Emotion Regulation

Emotion regulation skills assist in converting unpleasant thoughts and emotions into realistic views of life and self.

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Distress Tolerance

Distress tolerance skills offer relief when strong emotions decrease ability to access rational thoughts

The word dialectical in the name of the therapy refers to two opposite truths existing concurrently. Individuals use the skills to work toward accepting their dialectical situations to decrease conflict and despair (Linehan, 2014)

A dialectical statement might sound something like “I am angry with my situation and I can handle the stress (Linehan, 2015).” Like so many others, you may shake your head and say “there’s no way I will ever be able to say that.” Linehan proposed that accepting what life has to offer is better than struggling endlessly to get things we can’t have. (Linehan, 2021).”

Thanks to Marsha Linehan, you can accept yourself and your situation while taking small steps forward. At some point in therapy you will say: “this situation is awful, I’m okay as I am, and there is room for me to change.”  

Please contact Sea Glass Mental Health to ask about working with a therapist to learn DBT skills or ask your current therapist about incorporating DBT skills into your treatment plan.

For more information about DBT:  


Linehan, Marsha. (2021). Building a Life Worth Living: A Memoir. New York: Random House. 

Linehan Marsha (2015). DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition. New York: Guilford Press.

Linehan, Marsha. (2014). DBT Sills Training Manual, Second Edition. New York: Guilford Press.

Meet The Author

Pam Wagner, Clinical Therapist and Social Worker at Sea Glass Mental Health in Arizona



Meet The Author

Pam is a Clinical Therapist at Sea Glass Mental Health. She works with adults, couples, and families. Pam specializes in female childhood trauma, chronic pain, PTSD, and EMDR.

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