Dialectical Behavior Therapy For Mental Health And Substance Abuse Treatment
Start your Recovery 888.866.7504

Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment

American Addictions: A Nationwide Problem

Alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs cost more than $700 billion per year in America alone. Costs include crime, health care, and lost productivity – not to mention the long-reaching effect on the country.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (gathered by the National Institute on Drug Abuse) reports that approximately 52 percent of people 12 and older have used alcohol within the last month. Twenty percent have smoked cigarettes, 10 percent have used illicit drugs, and 1.4 percent abused prescription pain relievers.

 Overcoming Addiction

Whether it’s alcohol, methamphetamines, or anything in between, it can be nearly impossible to overcome addiction without help. This applies in particular when the person is surrounded by other users or is dealing with a dual diagnosis case. This means their addiction stems from a mental health issue like depression or anxiety, fueling a cycle of usage that only worsens with time. Without resolving the underlying issues, the addict may never regain control of life.

Fortunately, there are hundreds of treatment facilities across the nation like Reflections Recovery Center. These programs combine heavily trained staff, effective treatment techniques, and encouraging environments to steer patients in the right direction.

 Choosing a Therapy Option

There are many different treatment plans and options available to those in rehabilitation facilities. Each one presents unique advantages and challenges depending on the type of substance being abused, amount of time the person has been using, dual diagnosis status, etc. Trained counselors examine patients and listen to their history to find the most effective method. One long-standing and useful treatment path is dialectical behavior therapy or DBT.

 What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

 What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?DBT is a form of cognitive behavioral psychotherapy. It was developed in the 1980s with the goal of reaching a better understanding of borderline personality disorder. Psychologist Marsha M. Linehan founded the approach. Her treatment ideas have since been used for a variety of mental health issues.

Dialectical behavior therapy emphasizes psychosocial treatment aspects. It works to change harmful patterns of behavior such as suicidal ideation, substance abuse, and self-harm. Drug and alcohol usage also falls into these categories, so eliminating the urges can help release the patient from that type of reflexive behavior.

The theory behind DBT is that some people are more likely to overreact or react more intensely toward certain feelings and situations. Romantic, family and friend relationships can trigger excessive responses, which cause poor reactions or harmful habits.

How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Works

Dialectical behavior therapy aims to help people regulate emotions and behaviors, even in the face of sensitive or triggering situations. DBT focuses on education, allowing patients to recognize their triggers and reactive states. It also aims to provide coping skills to use during such episodes. To do this, DBT utilizes four main characteristics:


Dialectical behavior therapy demands focus on relationships. Clients and staff must work closely together to form a bond and approach delicate issues. Patients are encouraged to confront any issues about their relationship with their therapist directly (and vice versa). There must be openness, trust, and security in communication to foster progress.


DBT patients are often given homework assignments. They’re tasked with practicing skills, creating new ways of interacting, and considering emotions in a variety of situations. Dialectical behavior therapy offers this information and assignments in lectures, individual sessions, and group meetings. Many people will be able to practice reacting to such situations while in the group sessions.


DBT works through beliefs, assumptions, and thoughts that make life more challenging and increase the chance of an overreaction. Most importantly, it teaches patients to identify the underlying thoughts which are causing the problems. For example, a patient may wish or strive to be perfect at everything even though it’s not possible.


It is not enough to identify the problematic thoughts. Patients must also learn how they are strong and what they can do to overcome. DBT focuses on identifying strengths as well as weaknesses. This not only works to create mental balance, but also to inspire hope for the future.

The Components of Dialectical Behavior Therapy

The Components Of Dialectical Behavior TherapyTo accomplish the characteristics mentioned above, DBT must reach patients in a way that is easy on them emotionally but conducive to results. There are two main components DBT uses to achieve these goals.

Individualized Therapy

The first element is individualized therapy sessions. These meetings are held weekly in most cases, although certain facilities or special cases may require alternative schedules. The psychotherapy focuses on problem-solving behavior for immediate events. For example, the counselor and patient review the troubles the patient experienced in the past week or since the last meeting.

Serious issues take priority, but most meetings concentrate on more minor cases of irritation or strife. Anything which may interfere with progress or treatment is also addressed seriously. The counselor works toward building a higher quality of life and demonstrating proper coping mechanisms for frequent and minor events.

Linehan was passionate about the significance of frequent contact and constant reinforcement. “Both between and during sessions, the therapist actively teaches and reinforces adaptive behaviors, especially as they occur within the therapeutic relationship. . . The emphasis is on teaching patients how to manage emotional trauma rather than reducing or taking them out of crises. . . Telephone contact with the individual therapist between sessions is part of DBT procedures.”

Group Therapy

The second component of DBT is the group therapy sessions. These are also held weekly in most cases. Each session lasts approximately two to three hours. Participants are guided by a counselor who is familiar with the patients and the specific procedures of DBT. These meetings utilize the four models of cognitive growth for DBT patients: emotion regulation, mindfulness skills, interpersonal effectiveness, and reality acceptance/distress tolerance.

Emotional Regulation

Stabilizing emotions is the most critical aspect for suicidal and borderline patients. Emotions are more intense for these patients, so learning to control feelings can mean the difference between life and death. During the emotional regulation phase, patients identify feelings and obstacles to changing those emotions. They’ll also increase mindfulness, take opposite action, practice stress tolerating techniques, and reduce vulnerability.

Mindfulness Skills

Skills include observation, description, and participation. This approach is the foundation for understanding emotions as they surface and categorizing them effectively. Mindfulness also aims to help patients understand issues from an outside point of view instead of reacting strongly as a first response.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

This type of training is imperative for processing emotions. Interpersonal effectiveness can give patients the strength to cope with stressful situations without being overcome by them. It provides strategies for saying no, asking for what they need, and managing conflict.

Many individuals have good interpersonal skills in theory but fall short in execution. For example, they may understand that they should say no in certain situations – and they may even say no. But then they quickly fold and give in to the pressure. DBT builds up confidence and skill by approaching these issues practically.

Reality Acceptance/Distress Tolerance

Everyone is subject to pain, anger, and disappointment. Learning to tolerate stress is crucial to building healthy behaviors. When patients do not know how to manage stressors they can fall back into past patterns and undo any progress from therapy. One of the biggest parts of tolerating stress is knowing the difference between approval and acceptance. Once people can accept the reality of circumstances or conflicts, it becomes much easier to move forward in their lives.

A Hope through DBT

DBT is not for everyone, but the patients who are conditioned for it respond favorably to treatment. With dual diagnosis patients, forming healthier thought patterns and reactions can be the key to becoming free from substance abuse.

If you or a loved one has questions about DBT and whether it would be effective, please give Reflections Recovery Center a call. We want to help you regain control of your life and leave your problems in the past.

If You or a Loved One Is Suffering From Any Type of Mental Health Issues, Substance Abuse, Or a Combination of Both

Reflections Recovery Center