The 411 on CBT and DBT

Finding the right kind of therapy can feel daunting, especially when you don’t know much about the different types of counseling. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) are two common forms of treatment. But what do these processes look like? And how can you benefit from these therapies? Read on to learn more!

What Is CBT?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a goal-oriented, structured therapy that works on unhelpful patterns of thinking, behaviors, and core beliefs about yourself and the world. Through CBT, patients can learn tools for coping with these thoughts and feelings to improve their mental health. When you start CBT, your therapist will set goals regarding what troubles you and how you can manage those feelings. CBT is designed to occur over several sessions, ranging from 5 to 20. During these sessions, your therapist will teach you how to respond to challenging situations, anxiety, stress, and pain.

What Is DBT?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) originated as a subset of CBT. The word dialectical refers to life’s complexity and static nature. DBT particularly helps treat borderline personality disorder and suicidal behavior. In addition, research shows DBT helps people with ADHD, eating disorders, mood disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. DBT centers around skills in four areas:

  • Mindfulness:Teaching people how to be present in the current moment by noting the fleeting nature of emotions, which diminishes their power to direct actions.
  • Distress Tolerance:Teaching people how to tolerate negative emotions rather than escaping them or engaging in behaviors that worsen them.
  • Emotion Regulation:Individuals receive the tools to manage and change intense emotions.
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness:Gives individuals communication skills that enable them to be assertive, maintain self-respect, and strengthen relationships.


Although DBT was founded on CBT principles, they are distinct in execution. For example, DBT focuses on individuals accepting their experiences as a form of reassurance and creating a balance between negative behaviors and therapy.

While CBT focuses on your behavior, feelings, and thoughts and how they influence one another, DBT emphasizes regulating emotions, mindfulness, and accepting pain. Where CBT aims to help patients recognize when their thoughts are becoming troublesome and provides tools to redirect them, DBT assists patients with accepting themselves, managing their emotions to prevent destructive behavior, and feeling safe.

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