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Dialectical Behavioural Therapy is a treatment method with its roots in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Zen Buddhism. Find out more about DBT and how it can help.

What is dialectical behavioural therapy?

Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) is a form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) originally developed to treat people with severe problems such as emotional instability and self-harm.

It combines principles from CBT with elements of Zen Buddhism and Eastern philosophy, and has been shown to be effective for many difficult-to-treat clients. DBT is also helpful for addiction, eating disorders, depression and post-traumatic stress. Marsha Linehan, a psychologist who developed the treatment method, had her own problems with severe self-harm.

Please note, at Lavendla we do not work specifically with DBT as it is a treatment that is comprehensive and given at a specialist level in psychiatry.

What set our therapist apart was her genuine empathy and personal insight. Not only did she possess a deep understanding of neurodiversity, but she also shared personal experiences that resonated with us, creating an instant connection and fostering a sense of trust!

Benedetta Osarenk


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DBT therapy

DBT therapy is a comprehensive treatment that includes both individual and group sessions with a therapist. You can also have telephone contact with your therapist between sessions to get support in dealing with self-destructive behavior.

Treatment lasts about a year and includes weekly skills training aimed at learning how to manage and cope with difficult emotions. It includes training in mindfulness, social skills, emotion regulation and coping in crisis. Individual therapy involves working on current issues and dealing with any self-harming behaviour.

As with CBT, behavioural analysis is used to identify the situations, feelings and thoughts that trigger certain behaviours, the alternative strategies that could be used and the barriers to their use. DBT uses chain analysis to understand situations and events over time. Trauma treatment is also a component of the treatment, as many people also need this type of intervention.


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Dialectical behavioural therapy skills training manual

The main goal of DBT is to help individuals develop skills to manage their emotions and relationships better. The therapy focuses on four main areas:

  1. Mindfulness: Being aware and accepting of your thoughts and feelings in the present moment without judgement.
  2. Emotional regulation: Learning to identify and manage intense and rapid changes in emotions.
  3. Interpersonal effectiveness: Developing skills to communicate effectively and manage conflict in relationships.
  4. Resilience to suffering: Developing strategies to deal with difficulties and pain without trying to avoid or escape from them.

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Dialectical behavioural therapy for emotionally unstable personality syndrome

Emotionally unstable personality syndrome (also known as borderline) is a severe condition in which the person often has problems with emotion management, self-image, trust, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, among others. Adolescence is a time to develop one’s identity, but in EIPS there are problems that are not transitory. EIPS often begins in late adolescence or early adulthood, and affects about 1-2% of people. You may have feelings of emptiness, feelings of unreality and be impulsive. Personality disorders often improve with age, but many also need treatment.

DBT therapy online

Unfortunately, it is not possible to work with DBT via video conference, as the treatment is extensive and includes both individual and group sessions.


12 common questions about DBT

What is DBT?

Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) is a form of cognitive behavioural therapy that was originally developed to treat people with severe problems such as emotional instability and self-harm.

What is DBT therapy?

DBT therapy is a comprehensive treatment aimed at learning to manage and cope with difficult emotions. It aims to increase the patient’s understanding of themselves and how to manage relationships.

How does DBT therapy work?

Treatment includes both individual and group sessions with a therapist, as well as additional telephone support between sessions. Treatment lasts about a year and includes weekly skills training.

Who can be helped by DBT therapy?

It has been shown to be helpful for personality disorders such as emotional instability and suicidality, but also addiction, eating disorders, depression, and post-traumatic stress.

What is emotionally unstable personality disorder?

Emotionally unstable personality syndrome (formerly known as borderline personality disorder) is a severe condition in which the person often has problems with emotion management, self-image, trust, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Treatment often requires specialised interventions through psychiatry.

What is borderline personality disorder?

The ICD diagnostic system uses the diagnosis Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, which corresponds to Borderline Personality Disorder in the DSM-5 diagnostic system that is widely used in psychiatry. The term borderline has been stigmatised for a long time, which is why it is more commonly referred to as EIPS.

Can you get help with trauma in DBT?

If you have experienced trauma and have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it is important to get a thorough assessment and treatment for your PTSD symptoms. It is possible to get help with trauma as part of the treatment.

What is the difference between DBT and CBT?

DBT is a later development of CBT but they are based on the same foundation of learning theory and thoughts, feelings and behaviours. DBT also includes more mindfulness-based elements that have been inspired by Zen Buddhism.

Are women more likely to attend DBT than men?

It is equally common for men and women to be diagnosed with EIPS, with about 1-2% of people having it. However, women are much more likely to seek treatment and receive DBT, with about 75% of patients being women.

What is skills training in DBT?

Skills training is a part of DBT treatment developed to teach patients how to better manage emotions and relationships.

What can I do if a family member needs DBT?

There is family therapy for those who are close to people with EIPS, for example.

Where can I get help?

If you think you may need DBT, contact a GP for a referral. In an acute mental health crisis, call 111 or visit 111.nhs.uk immediately.



Written by dominic

Dominic is a Cape Town-based copywriter and editor with a background in psychology.