Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are two very different types of mental health treatment, but it’s not uncommon for people to be confused about the differences between them. It’s easy to understand why, too; both focus on addressing negative thought patterns and coping skills that prevent you from living life fully and experiencing happiness and satisfaction with your life. The truth is that they approach these problems in very different ways, though, so learning about the key differences between CBT and DBT can help you choose the right type of treatment for you.
In a way, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a subset of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). In fact, one could argue that many aspects of DBT are actually part of CBT’s therapeutic techniques. For example, both therapies incorporate things like mindfulness—the idea that if you’re not aware of how you feel in a given moment, it’s impossible to manage your emotions or make an informed decision. The biggest difference between these two forms of therapy is their scope: While DBT focuses on treating more severe mental illnesses, such as borderline personality disorder and eating disorders, CBT tackles everything from addiction to social anxiety. In terms of managing anxiety issues, however, there are some similarities. Most notably: Both therapies work on changing negative thoughts into positive ones.
2) Harm Reduction
For some, counseling for mental illness is something they choose to go through on their own. They might see it as a way to learn strategies or coping skills to use when things get tough. But if you don’t have any formal training in behavioral therapy, it can be difficult to know where to start. The key element of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is that therapists believe that by changing thoughts and behaviors, their patients can change how they feel over time. It’s helpful for people dealing with mild anxiety disorders but not for those who suffer from more severe disorders like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder; these illnesses require medication management in addition to counseling.
3) Interpersonal Effectiveness
One of several modules within Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), emotion regulation refers to all skills used to keep one’s negative emotions at bay. These include observing, describing, changing or eliminating an emotion, or experiencing an emotion while also accepting its presence without fighting it. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) was originally designed to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD), but it is now also used in treating other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. The mindfulness practice of mindfulness meditation can be especially helpful for practicing emotional regulation; in fact, there is a great deal of research demonstrating its ability to lower stress and stabilize moods.
4) Emotion Regulation
One of DBT’s core skills is emotion regulation. As opposed to behavior management, which encourages you to act in ways that suppress your emotions, emotion regulation helps you build awareness of your emotions and learn how to express them in healthy ways. For example, if you’re feeling sad but don’t want to burden other people with that sadness, it could be helpful to first try journaling or calling a friend. On an even deeper level, learning about different coping mechanisms can help you make sense of your feelings—which will ultimately help you manage them better. And who knows? If feelings are getting intense for no apparent reason at all, maybe there’s something else going on beneath the surface.