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What Is DBT Self-Help?

By Haven Lee
Updated May 17, 2024
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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) self-help is a set of coping skills that was developed by Marsha Linehan. It is most commonly used to treat patients who have borderline personality disorder, a condition that is characterized by unstable emotions. DBT self-help also is used to treat other conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. It consists of four primary skill sets that are designed to help patients cope with distressing emotions. Patients use DBT self-help skills in their daily life to replace destructive behaviors.

People who have borderline personality disorder find it difficult to cope with distressing emotions. They experience frequent intense emotions that lead to destructive behaviors such as self-mutilation. The cause of borderline personality disorder is unknown. Risk factors include abandonment in childhood and a disrupted family life.

The first DBT self-help skill that patients generally learn is mindfulness, which is a core skill that teaches patients to focus and be aware of the present moment. Being mindful is defined as seeing a situation for what it is without categorizing the experience as good or bad. Mindfulness teaches patients to be non-judgmental. Distressing emotions can occur if a patient views a situation or thought as bad or wrong. Taking a mindful approach promotes acceptance and decreases the risk for negative emotions.

Distress tolerance is a DBT self-help skill that is used when a patient is unable to change a situation. Patients learn to accept the situation as it is instead of how they want it to be. People who use distress tolerance are taught coping activities to improve the moment. Taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music, going shopping and watching a funny television show are examples of distress tolerance activities.

Emotion regulation is a critical DBT self-help skill that is used to change distressing emotions. This skill set teaches patients to focus on the positive events of each day. Emotion regulation helps patients stop and think before overreacting to a situation. Patients are taught to do daily activities that increase positive emotions to decrease distressing thoughts and emotions.

Interpersonal effectiveness is the final DBT self-help skill that patients learn. Patients who have borderline personality disorder often develop tumultuous relationships. Interpersonal effectiveness teaches patients to balance their priorities and take care of relationships that are important to them. Patients learn to identify cognitive distortions, such as jumping to conclusions, over-generalization and all-or-nothing thinking. With practice, patients improve the way they cope with emotions and learn to build positive interpersonal relationships.

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