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What is DBT?

What is DBT?

At Symmetry Counseling, we are all about taking multiple approaches to mental health to make sure you are receiving care that is tailored to your desired outcome. Contrary to popular belief, DBT isn’t just for those who suffer from borderline personality disorder — it’s for anyone seeking emotional well-being. Schedule an appointment with our licensed therapists to learn about the ‘Active Ingredients’ and gain control over your life today.

What Is DBT?

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), pioneered by Marsha Linehan, was created with the intent to treat clients with borderline personality disorder and high suicidality.  This evidence-based therapeutic approach has evolved into treating individuals with a wide range of mental health circumstances, including self-harm, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorder, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety. DBT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as both approaches focus on how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interwoven. DBT places focus on emotional and social aspects in assisting clients in coping with distressing emotions and detrimental behaviors.

The “Active Ingredients” of DBT

Clients engaging in this therapeutic approach are provided with new skills to cope with distressing emotions and decrease interpersonal troubles. DBT is separated into four core skills, also known as “active ingredients,” including Mindfulness, Emotional Regulation, Distress Tolerance, and Interpersonal Effectiveness. Mindfulness and distress tolerance skills guide clients in the acceptance of their thoughts and behaviors. Whereas emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness encourage change in these thoughts and behaviors.


Mindfulness is a state of fully attending to what is occurring in that exact moment and what we are doing. Due to the stresses in life, individuals may lose touch with their bodies as they are preoccupied with excessive thoughts regarding work, relationships, past experiences, and future encounters, which nurture anxiety. Mindfulness entails a moment-by-moment recognition of one’s thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and encompassing environment. Mindfulness can be better understood by classifying “what” skills and “how” skills. The “what” emphasizes what you’re focusing on, such as the present, awareness of surroundings, emotions, thoughts, sensations, and the differentiation from emotions, sensations, and thoughts. Whereas the “how” skills enlighten how one can be more mindful, including stabilizing logical thinking with emotions, applying radical acceptance, and taking part in mindfulness activities in daily routines. 

Distress Tolerance

Distress Tolerance involves an individual’s capacity to be in charge of actual or perceived emotional agony. Stress fluctuates from daily stressors to major difficulties such as divorce, loss of a job,  or the death of a loved one. Whether encountered by a daily stressor or major difficulty, the capability to tolerate distress can influence how the situation is managed. Incorporating distress tolerance skills can be beneficial in controlling difficult emotions. Distress tolerance skills assist in helping clients overcome major difficulties without these difficulties turning into harmful coping techniques. It is common for clients who are experiencing major life difficulties to self-isolate, which is not a beneficial coping mechanism when encountering stressors. With the application of distress tolerance, clients will be introduced to skills that can help distract themselves until difficulty can be handled in a calm manner, incorporate self-soothing techniques, and decipher which coping strategies will resolve their stress to decrease inadequate behaviors or reactions. 

Emotional Regulation

Emotional Regulation is the recognition of emotions and steps to manage emotions. Emotion regulation involves the capacity to exert authority over the emotional state. The skills learned through DBT allow clients to cope with their primary emotional reactions prior to distressing secondary feedback. Emotion regulation skills introduce the client to acknowledge emotions, increase emotional awareness, which can have beneficial effects, and provide methods to steer clear of emotional impulses. 

Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal Skills incorporate ways to communicate with others. It can often be difficult to manage healthy and stable relationships. DBT skills and techniques assist individuals in identifying their communication styles, introducing communication styles, and incorporating what communication styles are effective for these stable and healthy relationships. Communication skills are valuable tools to learn how to communicate your feelings and needs in relationships. 

At Symmetry Counseling, we believe that the implementation of mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness can help clients cope with a variety of challenges. With the help of one of our licensed therapists, clients can learn to alter ineffective thoughts and behaviors with more functional thoughts and behaviors, which help manage life difficulties. If you would like to give DBT a try, contact us today to get connected with a licensed counselor who specializes in DBT therapy.


Chapman A. L. (2006). Dialectical behavior therapy: current indications and unique elements. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)), 3(9), 62–68.


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