by Musarat Yusufali LCSW
I remember eons ago (or that’s what it seems like to me now), I was walking and talking to a colleague about being interested in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) and wanting to specialize in that. Now that I think back to that time, I had no idea what I was talking about or didn’t even know why I wanted to get into DBT. In my young mind, I was attracted by the skills that it aimed to teach and created the change people wanted. I had no idea that it actually had some basis to it.
Fast forward to today, I have done training in DBT through the Behavior Tech organization founded by Marsha Linehan, I have utilized DBT in group settings with adults, adolescents and parents and I use it in my private practice all the time. DBT is a treatment protocol that was created by Marsha Linehan that integrates acceptance and change based therapy models to treat chronic suicidal ideation and self-injurious behaviors.
As you may be familiar, Dialectical Behavior Therapy is very effective for clients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or traits of BPD. In our clinical jargon, it’s an evidence based protocol for treating patients that have high rates of suicidal ideation, self-injurious behavior and life destroying behaviors. Usually DBT treatment consistents of a treatment team that are all versed in DBT values and may include an individual DBT therapist, a group DBT therapist, a family liason or parent coach, a psychiatrist and other providers as needed.
For me, the biggest research that I found to be fascinating is the research around just adding DBT coping skills into a person’s regular therapy routine and the effectiveness it had on treatment outcomes. The PhD folks, who like numbers and data, conducted 11 research studies where they only added DBT skills component and they found it supported participants in reducing emotional dysregulation, anxiety symptoms, anger outbursts and depression. They even found, DBT skills only helped adults manage their ADHD symptoms, reduce binge eating behaviors, and reduction in drinking to cope among college students.
So imagine, you have a new client come in and they tell you they have been self-injuring for the last few years and they haven’t told anyone. This is usually what happens with several teens I work with, now what are you going to do? They tell you, they don’t know what else to do. Self-injuring makes them feel better. Imagine if you can have the DBT skill set in your knowledge base, you can immediately give this teen one or two coping skills they can start working with. If you later decide this teen would benefit from a DBT skills group in the community, they can attend group while continuing to do individual therapy with you and this treatment protocol will be more effective for them.
This is why I love DBT skills so much. I personally think DBT skills are like the floaters when someone is learning to swim, using a floater can help someone gain their confidence while they are learning to use their muscles of the feet as well as learn how to let go of their fear and learn to float. DBT skills gives the person a structure and method to deal with their external and internal struggles (a float) while they continue to work on deeper strengths (building a secure attachment, self-confidence, self-awareness).
Let me know what questions you have about DBT, reach out with an email: firstname.lastname@example.org