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What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

Developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan at the University of Washington, DBT was originally developed to treat

Breaking down “Dialectical Behavior Therapy

What is “Dialectical?”

DBT is based on the idea of “dialectics,” which is the thought that two things that appear as opposites can both be real and true at the same time and can be synthesized.

What this looks like in practice:

dbt chelsea ying yangDialectics takes a situation that people would like to make black and white, and, rather than making it gray, it creates something more along the lines of a yin and yang symbol.

One of the core dialectics often referred to in DBT is that of “Acceptance and Change,” which can be described as weighing out various points of view in any situation and constantly working on balancing an effort to change with accepting situations as they are.

Here at Sage, we work from a place of “acceptance and change.” We believe that our clients are doing the best they can and that their life would be more fulfilling if they made some changes. Both of these things are equally real and true.

What is “Behavior Therapy?”

Behavior therapy is based on the study of how behaviors are learned. For the most part, it is a “doing” therapy that focuses on the present rather than a “talking” therapy that focuses on the past.

DBT works to replace ineffective ways of coping by learning new, skillful ways of coping. This is accomplished, in part, by focusing on specific, measurable goals that can realistically be attained.

Real-Life Example
You are feeling stressed by the amount of tasks you must complete for school or work, so you avoid doing the tasks to help relieve that stress.
From a DBT approach, we would understand or accept why you are feeling stressed – the fact is that you likely have many tasks to balance right now and you are doing your best to balance all of them at once.
However, the way that you are attempting to balance them (by avoiding certain tasks) is not effective and this must change. Avoiding certain tasks only results in you feeling more stressed when you are trying to complete the tasks at the last minute or when you don’t complete them at all and suffer the consequences (e.g., your teacher or boss is upset with you, etc.).
In behavioral-based therapies like DBT, you would work with your therapist to create a plan of specific, measurable, and attainable goals so that you could complete tasks in a timely manner while experiencing the least amount of stress possible.


At Sage, we find it important to use treatment approaches that are empirically backed. Research supports that DBT is as effective or more effective than other psychotherapies when treating a range of problems related to emotion dysregulation, including substance use problems, eating disordered behavior, and anger-related problems. Click here to view a summary of DBT data to date.

DBT is an empirically-supported treatment that has been shown to be effective for those struggling with

Visit the following pages to learn more about about:
DBT Therapy for Adults
DBT Therapy for Adolescents


Adapted from: Fielder-Jenks, C. (April 15, 2013). DBT Spotlight Blog Series: What is DBT? Located at:


Behavioral Tech, LLC. (2013). DBT® Resources: What is DBT?

Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford Press.

Linehan, M. M. and Dimeff, L. (2001). Dialectical Behavior Therapy in a Nutshell. The California Psychologist, 34, 10-13.