Why Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)Could Change Your Life

Emotions are an essential part of being human, and there’s nothing wrong with being a person who feels passionately. But sometimes, whether it’s with our partners, in our work, with our families, or when we’re by ourselves, emotions can hijack our decision-making. This can lead to extreme behaviors and rocky relationships. When you get carried away by your emotions, it can feel like you’re a ship captain lost at sea during a raging storm. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is about taking back control of the wheel. Specifically, it’s about learning practical skills to cope with stressful situations. Here’s how it works, and how it could help you:

The Philosophy and Purpose of DBT

DBT is about finding balance. It’s about becoming aware of your emotions, seeing where they come from, and learning to accept what you can and cannot change.

“Dialectical” is a philosophical term that means taking two things that seem contradictory and seeing the truth in both.

DBT is designed to help you find this in your own life, helping you avoid black and white thinking and manage your emotions more effectively.

DBT is also inspired by Zen Buddhism and Vipassana meditation. They both emphasize the idea of “accepting what is” , and not fighting against our emotional states.

Originally, DBT was designed to treat borderline personality disorder, and it has proved to be effective in doing so. But, it has also been shown to be effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, self-harm, and suicidal behavior.

DBT has six key elements:

Acceptance and change—Accepting a situation is the first step toward changing it. Cognitive transformation—Becoming aware of and repacing thought patterns that don’t serve you.

Behavioral modification—Replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones.

Learning new skill sets—Learning helpful and effective coping strategies.

Collaboration with others—Creating stronger, healthier personal relationships.

Recognition of strength—Acknowledging, building upon, and appreciating your strengths.

The Four Pillars of DBT


Mindfulness is a popular term in the mental health world, and for good reason. It helps you manage powerful emotions and become more immersed in the experience of living.

While being mindful, you don’t get swept away worrying about an uncertain future, a past you can’t change, or other potential distractions.

You focus only on what is happening in the present moment, and the goal is to learn to do this without judgment.

There are three aspects of DBT mindfulness exercises:

Participating: You immerse yourself in only one activity at a time.

**This teaches you to let go of self-consciousness and lose yourself in an activity without distraction.


You directly notice your sensory and emotional experience, which includes anything you can touch, taste, see, hear, and smell.

**This teaches you to feel without labels and be less reactive to your experiences. In turn, you become less likely to be swept away by panic or impulse.


Put what you are observing into words.

**This helps you focus on what is factually true about a situation. This saves you from jumping to conclusions about yourself or others that might not be true in the moment. The practice of mindfulness doesn’t remove you from your feelings. Instead, it lets you become aware of them so that you can make healthier decisions.


Someone who has trouble regulating their emotions may find it difficult to state their needs in an effective way, which can greatly affect their relationship satisfaction.

The interpersonal effectiveness skill teaches you how to set clear goals, respect yourself, and reduce conflict in your relationships.

DBT comes with plenty of useful acronyms, one of which is DEAR MAN. DEAR MAN is a guide for stating your needs to another person without fear.


D—Describe your situation.

E—Express how you feel about it.

A—Ask for what you want/need.

R—Reinforce (acknowledge) the other person.

M—Be mindful.

A—Appear Confident.

N—Be willing to negotiate.

These actions will help state your needs in a fair, direct way, so you can start getting what you want in life.

Another useful acronym in DBT for maintaining self-respect is FAST:


F—Be fair to yourself and to the other party.

A—Apologize less (If you apologize frequently, you’ll find over time that it isn’t necessary).

S—Stick to your values (Don’t compromise who you are to make others happy).

T—Tell the truth and avoid exaggeration.


Distress tolerance is how well you deal with difficult emotions and situations. It is essential for managing personal crises and emerging triumphant from hard periods in your life.

It also involves learning to address your pain and soothe yourself when you’re hurting.

The ACCEPT model is an excellent tool for increasing your distress tolerance. The next time you’re feeling intense negative emotion, try one of these:

A: Activities This is immersing yourself in a calming activity when you’re expericing a crisis, such as talking to a friend, taking a walk, or practicing a loved hobby.

C: Contributing

This is turning your attention to helping others. Volunteering or helping out a friend can uplift your spirit and fuel your emotional recovery.

C: Comparisons

This is comparing your current situation to previous situations you’ve overcome in the past. Is it really as hard as it was before? Have you shown that you are resilient enough to get through it?

E: Emotion

This is adding positive emotion on top of your negative feelings. For example, you can listen to music or watch films that inspire you when you’re feeling down. You’ll learn how lifesaving things like music and art can be.

T: Thoughts

Instead of doing an activity for pure relaxation, you choose to focus on things that stimulate your brain like crosswords, puzzles, or video games.

S: Sensations

This is seeking out and focusing on physical sensations that can help soothe the mind during stressful moments.

These could be things like a warm blanket, hot tea, or the sound of rain.

One other major tool for distress tolerance is the concept of radical acceptance.

Radical acceptance is the ancient idea that you should not worry about things you can’t control.

You acknowledge exactly what is in your power and what is not, and you accept that as it is. Knowing what you can and can’t control in life both empowers you and brings you peace of mind.


Emotional regulation is learning not to let your emotions dicate your actions.

It’s important to note that negative emotions should not be avoided or repressed. They should instead be acknolwedged and confronted while you cultivate a strong mental foundation through healthy external behaviors.

One last acronym (I promise) that will help with emotional regulation is PLEASE.


PL—Prioritizing physical health.

E: Eating—Having a healthy, balanced diet.

A—Avoiding alcohol and drugs (which can further emotional distress).

S—Prioritizing regular and adequate sleep.

E—Getting regular exercise

DBT Pros and Cons (What DBT Really Is)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy is best thought of as a big toolbox that’s designed to prepare you for life’s most stressful situations.

The potential pros are immense: You’ll learn how to get what you want in life, and from your relationships.

You’ll learn how not be ruled by intense feelings.

You’ll learn how to soothe your mind when you’re upset.

You’ll learn how to become more confident and assertive.

You’ll learn how to become resilient and get through your toughest moments.

So what are the cons of DBT? Well, it requires a level of commitment and vulnerability that comes with trying any form of therapy. Yes, it is a long-term process. Yes, there is homework involved. Yes, it is structured.

But, consider it a method for learning how to heal, treat yourself better, and live a more fulfilling life. DBT skills show you that you always have more power than you think you do; you just have to learn to use it.

DBT Pros and Cons (What DBT Really Is) See if DBT therapy is a good fit for you…