Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Skills Groups: An Overview

We’ve all found ourselves in a crisis, in a conflict with someone important in our lives or overwhelmed by emotion and circumstances. It can be difficult to maintain emotional balance while figuring out just how to navigate through those stressful times. For some, repetitive stressful events and an inability to recover fully from one event before another occurs results in destructive behaviors, such as self-injury and suicide attempts. It takes skills to solve life’s problems while enduring intense emotion.

In DBT, four skills modules are designed to specifically assist individuals in better managing behavioral, emotional and cognitive instability. Their intent is to help people with problems with anger or the expression with anger, episodic depression, irritability or anxiety, intense or chaotic relationships, impulsivity, stress and feelings of emptiness.

The Four Skill Modules: Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation, and Interpersonal Effectiveness

The skills modules include mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. Mindfulness is designed to teach a person how to focus their mind and attention. Distress tolerance is centered on accepting the current situation and finding ways to survive and tolerate the moment without engaging in problematic behavior. Emotion regulation skills include learning to identify and label current emotions, identifying obstacles to changing emotions, reducing emotional reactivity, increasing positive emotions, and changing emotions. Finally, interpersonal effectiveness skills teach effective strategies for asking for what one needs, saying no, and coping with interpersonal conflict.

New skills are presented each week and homework is assigned for individuals to practice during the week. Homework is reviewed at a later group session or at the next group. The goal is for people to gain new skills, get better at the skills they have and be able to use the skills when they are really needed, like during times of intense emotion, crisis or conflict.

Linehann M. M. (1993). Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: The Guilford Press.

12 Replies to “Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Skills Groups: An Overview”

  1. Pingback: PsychCentral
  2. Dear Christy:

    Great job on the blog! Keep up the fantastic work.

    I’d love to hear a little more detail about each of these skills from your perspective.

    Linehan’s work is tremendous.

    Job well done!

    John

  3. Very, very interesting!!! I have recently read and article, which describes similar techniques, but it seems more ‘involved’ somehow. Maybe due to the style. Here’s the reference [Journal of Psychotherapy Integration © 2010 American Psychological Association 2010, Vol. 20,
    No. 2, 152–202]. It’s by Dr. Rofe and it’s called RCTN “The Rational-CHoice Theory of Neurosis.” more ‘invovled’ is suppose is how reading about the theory is in itself empowering and strengthens the coping mechanisms. He presents it as solving “theoretical deadlock” in psychology and here’s what i found challenging: he cites clinical research, which is against behaviour, cognivitist ands so on, BUT — for me, i can’t distinguish between what RCTN proposes from what you propose here!! please, would you be of assistance? one last thing, he calls it Rational Insight Therapy. Does that correspond to what you are doing in DBT? Thanks again!!

    1. Hi Bob,
      I have to admit that I don’t know much about RCTN. I’ll have to look into it, to answer your question. I do know that DBT views insight as important, but insufficient for behavioral change. DBT views insight as one step in the problem solving process. There’s a wide body of research that supports cognitive behavioral psychology, behavioral psychology and DBT. I’m not sure what research is “against” these treatments, although they are certainly not universal treatments, effective for everyone.

      Thanks for your comment. I’ll have to see what I find.

    1. It means that the comment goes to the person who writes the blog and that person reads it and approves it to be posted. It is a way of keeping spam out of the comments.

  4. Hi, I’m just curious, is it advisable for a BPD patient currently enrolled in DBT to find a job? It seems to me that keeping onself busy and productive would be more effective than sitting around all day.

    1. It really depends on the individual. Getting a job can make you feel capable and effective and support long term positive feelings. On the other hand, if a job is stressful for you and brings more conflict or emotional fluctuations into your life, it may make most sense to focus on your treatment until you can more skillfully manage the demands of work.

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