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Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Our Treatment Approach

Individuals living with depression, bipolar and anxiety disorders frequently experience uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. As a result, they may often try to escape, avoid and numb feelings as they arise. Unfortunately, the more that one practices this numbing and avoidance, the more one’s distress increases. ERC Pathlight utilizes Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) extensively throughout the therapeutic day to help patients create a life they are able to manage more skillfully, instead of living in a life they want to avoid.

Two men talking on a couch

What is DBT?

DBT is a comprehensive, evidence-based treatment for severe, persistent emotional and behavioral difficulties. In patients with anxiety and mood disorders, DBT has been shown to:

  • Reduce life-threatening behavior (i.e. suicidality, self-harm, excessive substance use)
  • Reduce therapy-interfering behavior (i.e. resistance, hostility, lack of motivation)
  • Reduce quality of life-interfering behavior (i.e. risk of losing housing, job, marriage, custody of children, etc.)
  • Increase behavioral skills (i.e. mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness)

DBT is rooted in dialectics, a philosophy acknowledging some truth in all viewpoints, even though not all viewpoints are true (i.e. “There’s some truth to that” or “I understand you feel that way, and at the same time, there are other ways to see this”). Pathlight's compassionate treatment team recognize the power of this narrative for patients with depression and anxiety, who tend to be emotionally vulnerable and who have suffered greatly in invalidating or punishing environments.

While dialectics is the practice of finding the middle ground, behavioral treatment involves making thoughtful changes. Within the DBT approach, patients’ feelings are validated, and patients are also challenged to learn skills to make meaningful behavioral change in their lives moving forward.

How does DBT work?

DBT emphasizes the development of four core sets of skills to support a life of recovery from mood and anxiety concerns:

  • Mindfulness: Examining one’s thoughts and behaviors with curiosity in a non-judgmental way
  • Distress tolerance: Accepting that which we cannot change, fix, manipulate, avoid or get rid of and learning effective coping skills; we can’t get rid of the present no matter how painful it is
  • Emotional regulation: Identifying, acknowledging, and coping with intense feelings
  • Interpersonal effectiveness: Learning how to have strong, effective relationships, be assertive when needed and set necessary boundaries to establish appropriate intimacy

DBT’s compassionate yet practical framework guides patients to develop awareness of feelings they have in the present moment and the ability to respond most effectively to those feelings. DBT assumes that patients are doing the best they can, that they want to improve and that they’re capable of learning new coping skills.

All of the therapists at Pathlight are trained and supervised by skilled clinicians who understand that DBT is much more than a set of recovery skills — it is assumptions, principles and strategies that help patients create and engage in a life worth living. Get in touch with us to learn more about treatment with DBT.