Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

one on one casual 300x235 DBT People are primarily relational beings. We do best in life when we have others we can rely on and talk to. Love, care, attention, and intention matter a great deal to us as a whole. Understanding that, at Cliffside Malibu, we look for ways to motivate people to do better, to live the lives they want instead of being trapped in addiction. Addiction is a behavior that suppresses pain. We use various sorts of therapies to help addicts express their pain in healthy ways, using the support of family, friends, and professionals, as well as other tools. DBT is one such tool.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) was developed by Marsha Linehan, PhD, ABPP, a mental health researcher at the University of Washington. DBT is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that combines psychological techniques with mindfulness awareness, to assist those with severe psychological disorders, particularly emotional disregulation. It is very often used at Cliffside Malibu to assist those with co-occurring disorders (also called dual diagnosis) to regulate the out-of-control feelings that the addict previously used drugs and alcohol to control.

DBT has strong research backing and is particularly effective with disorders in which the client’s capacity for emotional arousal is above average. For addiction recovery, we use DBT to help clients:

  • label the emotions that they are feeling;
  • recognize that the way they frame emotions can both limit and motivate them;
  • understand the ways in which their feelings affect themselves and others;
  • regulate their feelings and use them in ways that are freeing and inspiring;
  • deal with stress and distress.

Addicts have a tendency to become overwhelmed by their emotions. In treatment, we help addicts find tools to deal with what would otherwise be overpowering emotional states. DBT is a powerful tool in this task.

DBT is used in conjunction with other ideas about psychology, such as the Stages of Change model. In the Stages of Change model, people are approached at their level of readiness to change. Once a person’s current level of ability to change has been identified, DBT principles can be used.

The relationship between the therapist and the client when using DBT is active. In DBT, the therapist teaches tools to help the client deal with their emotions in healthier ways than they have in the past. This is a direct method of addressing happiness and providing skills to give addicts better tools for living. Traditionally in the field of psychology, therapists implied a lot of things. Sitting back in their chairs, they would vaguely suggest a course of action and hope the client figured out how to go forward for themselves. With DBT, our therapists prefer to go ahead and tell you exactly where they’re coming from and see if together you can find mutual ground, to work as a unit to improve life skills. That’s what DBT does. It allows the therapist to work with the addict to say, “Okay, your issue mostly is what you do with your emotions – when you feel these emotions you take drugs, or you cut your wrists, or you drink. We’re going to find something healthier to do with those emotions since that isn’t really working out too well.” In this way, therapist and client work together to increase the addict’s ability to connect with others and deal with emotions in meaningful ways.

For more information on Professor Linehan, visit her website at the University of Washington. There, you will find resources about her research and DBT.