What is dialectal behaviour therapy?

Dialectal behaviour therapy (DBT) is a cognitive behaviour treatment that was originally developed to treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and it is now recognised as the gold standard psychological treatment for this population. In addition, research has shown that is effective in treating a wide range of other disorders such as substance dependence, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and eating disorders.

There are four components of DBT:

  • skills training group
  • individual treatment
  • DBT phone coaching
  • consultation team.

DBT skills training group is focused on enhancing clients' capabilities by teaching them behavioural skills. The group is run like a class where the group facilitator teaches the skills and assigns homework for clients to practice using the skills in their everyday lives.

Groups meet on a weekly basis for approximately 2.5 hours and it takes 25 weeks to get through the full skills curriculum, which is often repeated to create a one-year program.

DBT individual therapy is focused on enhancing client motivation and helping clients to apply the skills to specific challenges and events in their lives. In the standard DBT model, individual therapy takes place once a week for as long as the client is in therapy and runs concurrently with skills groups.

DBT phone coaching is focused on providing clients with in-the-moment coaching on how to use skills to effectively cope with difficult situations that arise in their everyday lives. Clients can call a DBT therapist between sessions to receive coaching at the times when they need help the most.

DBT therapist consultation team offers supervision and support to DBT providers in their work with people who often have severe, complex, difficult-to-treat disorders. The consultation team is designed to help therapists stay motivated and competent so they can provide the best treatment possible. Teams meet weekly and are composed of individual therapists and group leaders who share responsibility for each client's care.

What skills are taught in DBT?

Broadly, DBT includes four sets of behavioural skills.


  1. mindfulness: the practice of being fully aware and present in this one moment
  2. distress tolerance: how to tolerate emotional pain in difficult situations, not change it
  3. interpersonal effectiveness: how to ask for what you want and say no while maintaining self-respect and relationships with others
  4. emotion eegulation: how to change emotions that you want to change.

There is increasing evidence that DBT skills training alone is a promising intervention for a wide variety of both clinical and nonclinical populations and across settings.

What does dialectical mean?

The term "dialectical" means a synthesis or integration of opposites. The primary dialectic within DBT is between the seemingly opposite strategies of acceptance and change. For example, DBT therapists accept clients as they are while also acknowledging that they need to change in order to reach their goals. In addition, all of the skills and strategies taught in DBT are balanced in terms of acceptance and change. For example, the four skills modules include two sets of acceptance-oriented skills (mindfulness and distress tolerance) and two sets of change-oriented skills (emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness).

What if I have an issue in therapy?

We encourage all clients to discuss any difficulties they may experience with their individual/group therapist to seek a resolution.

Intensive Psychological Therapies Service (IPTS)