Understanding DBT and CBT: A Simple Guide

April 16, 2024
# min read

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) help people deal with emotional and mental health issues. Although they are related, they are not the same. DBT is a kind of CBT with some extra features that make it special. Let’s break down what makes DBT different from CBT and how it uses more tools to help people.

How CBT Has Grown

As Cliff Stamp explains, CBT started with what we call the "First Wave," focusing on changing behaviors through learning. This method used a lot of observation and experiments to understand and change how people act.

The "Second Wave," which came about in the 1970s with Aaron Beck’s ideas, began to look at how our thoughts affect our feelings and behaviors. This was a big shift because it started to deal with the internal thought processes that influence how we feel and act.

The "Third Wave" of CBT includes therapies like DBT. It brings in new concepts like mindfulness and acceptance and a significant focus on mental health skills. These therapies look at people more completely and deal with a wider range of human experiences.

DBT’s Extra Tools

DBT builds on the basics of CBT by adding teachings from different philosophies like stoicism and Buddhism. These teachings encourage accepting life’s challenges calmly and mindfully.

Mindfulness and accepting how we feel at the moment (Radical Acceptance) are key parts of DBT. These practices help especially well with issues like very strong emotions or behavior patterns that are hard to break. DBT doesn’t just help people accept their feelings; it also helps them actively work to change negative thought patterns, as Carlos Carona points out in his academic writing.

How DBT Works With CBT

DBT doesn’t throw out what CBT offers. Instead, it adds new methods to the mix, making it a more rounded approach to therapy. DBT uses both old and new techniques, to help people deal with more complex issues more effectively.

For example, DBT is great for helping people who feel emotions very intensely and might need more than the standard CBT approach. It offers them tools to handle their emotions better and improve their quality of life.

Case Study DBT for Emotional Management

Let’s look at an example to show how DBT builds on the toolkit that CBT has created. Take Anna, a 32-year-old graphic designer, who struggled with intense emotions that often overwhelmed her, leading to anxiety and depression. Traditional Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) had taught her to recognize and challenge her negative thoughts, but it fell short of helping her manage the emotional intensity. 

Anna’s therapist then recommended Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which was tailored for those who experience emotions deeply. DBT introduced her to mindfulness and distress tolerance skills, significantly improving her ability to cope with emotional spikes and maintain balance in her daily life.

Through DBT, Anna learned practical skills such as breathing exercises and mindfulness meditation, which helped her observe her feelings without judgment. The therapy also equipped her with strategies for effective communication and self-respect in her interpersonal relationships.


Robust Skills Both for Intense Challenges and Everyday Life

DBT is a detailed method that adds more to the traditional CBT approaches, giving people better ways to deal with their mental health challenges. DBT takes the good parts of CBT and adds even more tools to deal with mental health challenges. That’s why we believe it’s a strong option for those who need help managing complex emotional issues as well as people who want a robust toolkit to better manage everyday life.

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