Couples and Relationship Therapy
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Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

DBT is a psychological method to treat persons with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Research indicates its application to also be effective in treating patients who represent varied symptoms and behaviors associated with spectrum mood disorders, including self-injury. Key elements DBT practitioners emphasize, behaviorist theory, dialectics, cognitive therapy, and, DBT’s central component, mindfulness.

There are two essential parts of the treatment, and without either of these parts the therapy is not considered “DBT adherent.”

An individual component in which the therapist and client discuss issues that come up during the week, recorded on diary cards and follow a treatment target hierarchy. Self-injurious and suicidal behaviors take first priority, followed by therapy interfering behaviors. Then there are quality of life issues and finally working towards improving one’s life generally. During the individual therapy, the therapist and client work towards improving skill use. The four modules of dbt include:

Mindfulness

The essential part of all skills taught in skills group are the core mindfulness skills. Mindfulness is derived from teachings of the Buddha, the Zen tradition being perhaps one of its most well-known proponents; it can be studied in Zen literature.

Interpersonal effectiveness

Interpersonal response patterns taught in DBT skills training are very similar to those taught in many assertiveness and interpersonal problem-solving classes. They include effective strategies for asking for what one needs, saying no, and coping with interpersonal conflict.

Individuals with borderline personality disorder frequently possess good interpersonal skills in a general sense. The problems arise in the application of these skills to specific situations. An individual may be able to describe effective behavioral sequences when discussing another person encountering a problematic situation, but may be completely incapable of generating or carrying out a similar behavioral sequence when analyzing his or her own situation.

The interpersonal effectiveness module focuses on situations where the objective is to change something (e.g., requesting that someone do something) or to resist changes someone else is trying to make (e.g., saying no). The skills taught are intended to maximize the chances that a person’s goals in a specific situation will be met, while at the same time not damaging either the relationship or the person’s self-respect.

Emotion regulation

Individuals with borderline personality disorder and suicidal individuals are frequently emotionally intense and labile. They can be angry, intensely frustrated, depressed, or anxious. This suggests that these clients might benefit from help in learning to regulate their emotions. Dialectical behavioral therapy skills for emotion regulation include:

Identifying and labeling emotions
Identifying obstacles to changing emotions
Reducing vulnerability to emotion mind
Increasing positive emotional events
Increasing mindfulness to current emotions
Taking opposite action
Applying distress tolerance techniques

Distress tolerance

Many current approaches to mental health treatment focus on changing distressing events and circumstances. They have paid little attention to accepting, finding meaning for, and tolerating distress. This task has generally been tackled by psychodynamic, psychoanalytic, gestalt, or narrative therapies, along with religious and spiritual communities and leaders. Dialectical behavioral therapy emphasizes learning to bear pain skillfully.

Distress tolerance skills constitute a natural development from mindfulness skills. They have to do with the ability to accept, in a non-evaluative and nonjudgmental fashion, both oneself and the current situation. Although the stance advocated here is a nonjudgmental one, this does not mean that it is one of approval: acceptance of reality is not approval of reality.

Distress tolerance behaviors are concerned with tolerating and surviving crises and with accepting life as it is in the moment. Four sets of crisis survival strategies are taught: distracting, self-soothing, improving the moment, and thinking of pros and cons. Acceptance skills include radical acceptance, turning the mind toward acceptance, and willingness versus willfulness.