Artwork courtesy of Leigh Wells
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (or DBT) is a form of talk therapy which was originally developed to treat people suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder. This is a particularly serious mental disorder characterized by emotional disregulation, i.e: great difficulties in controlling emotions, which would lead patients to repeatedly harm themselves and even attempt to commit suicide as they were unable to cope with their intense emotional states.
However, it was later found to be very successful at helping people manage destructive habits and learning to tolerate and change painful feelings, and it was applied to a range of mental problems such as addiction, anxiety, childhood trauma, PTSD, and depression.
While other therapies may be more focused on changing undesirable behaviours, the reason why DBT has known such success, where other forms of therapy may have failed, was that it validated patients’ strong feelings, acknowledging that, faced with the same circumstances, other people could have reacted the same way as the patient, but guiding him/her towards healthier ways of dealing with them.
DBT is an eminently practical therapy so you needn’t worry about having to lie on a couch for years before you can feel any benefit! You will explore your feelings and patterns, like with any type of talking therapy, and you will also be encouraged to delve further into the root of your problems so as to understand yourself better, but at the same time you will be going through practical exercises which will provide you with concrete help to deal with everyday situations.
DBT’s framework is based on mindfulness which, to put it in a simple way, teaches you to concentrate on the present moment without letting past experiences and fear of the future interfere, while at the same time learning to detach yourself from your emotions and observe them, rather than get overwhelmed by them.
It includes various modules such as interpersonal effectiveness, which aims at developing in the patient the ability to communicate their needs clearly and assertively, but at the same time respectfully and fairly, so as to promote pro-active listening, i.e. hearing what is really being said rather than interpreting it through the filter of a lifetime’s worth of experiences.
Although this is only a very brief summary of one of the core skills of DBT, it is easy to see how Dialectical Behaviour Therapy can have far-reaching applications to all situations, as communication is at the heart of any human interaction, and how it can help people in any context, at work, at college, within a family or a couple.