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What Is DBT?

woman talking to therapist about what DBT is

Therapy is the cornerstone of effective addiction treatment, but for optimal results, a patient’s treatment plan must be customized for their needs. For some people, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) provides the catalyst for change that other forms of therapy do not. So, what is DBT, and how is it different from other therapies for addiction? Learn how this therapeutic modality can effect change for those struggling to overcome addiction.

At Midwest Center at Youngstown, our full continuum of care for addiction offers a customized treatment plan complete with therapies most suitable for your recovery. Call us today at 844.544.0502 to learn more about how DBT and addiction treatment can give you a new lease on life.

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

Dialectical behavior therapy is a therapeutic modality that addresses behavioral change from a slightly different angle than cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It was initially developed for use with patients with borderline personality disorder and those struggling with suicidal thoughts. The usual approaches used in CBT — identifying and restructuring unhealthy thoughts to stimulate positive changes in behavior — were ineffective. Learning to accept what one cannot change was also not helpful for these patients. A different tactic was needed, which is how dialectical behavior therapy was created.

What makes dialectical behavior therapy different? It merges two opposing concepts:

  • Acceptance
  • Change

DBT focuses on acknowledging one’s current situation and discovering inner motivation for change. Either concept used on its own often showed negative results, but when used in conjunction with one another, patients could finally experience positive change.

How DBT and Addiction Treatment Work Together

DBT is one of the most commonly used therapies for patients with addiction and severe co-occurring mental health disorders. While people dealing with this challenging combination desperately need professional help, they are also notorious for skipping treatment sessions and not following through on recommendations. To help improve patient outcomes, the DBT approach to treatment involves:

  • Regulating potentially dangerous emotions – Suicidal or violent thoughts 
  • Reducing problematic behaviors that can interfere directly with treatment – Alleviating withdrawal symptoms and locating sober housing, if needed 
  • Encouraging patient engagement in sessions – Developing a relapse prevention plan together 
  • Cultivating healthier behaviors – Building a support system, finding new hobbies, and creating a life worth living

Dialectical behavior therapy employs some of the same concepts used in 12-step programs. The most obvious is finding the right balance between acceptance and change, part of the Serenity Prayer.


Accepting what one cannot change can help relieve some of the frustration associated with things out of one’s control. For example, patients receiving treatment for addiction and co-occurring disorders cannot control their withdrawal symptoms and cravings.


DBT then prompts the patient to acknowledge what they can change. In this case, the patient can commit to showing up for sessions and following through with medications to relieve their withdrawal symptoms. This would also entail being an active part of creating a relapse prevention plan to deal with cravings and addiction triggers. 

Who Would Benefit Most from DBT?

When a therapist meets a patient for the first time, they gather as much information as possible to determine the most appropriate type of therapy. Sometimes, it is a trial-and-error process, as noted above, with patients who did not respond to CBT. People who tend to benefit most from the unique approach of DBT are:

  • Those with addiction and multiple co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Those who did not have success with other forms of therapy
  • Those who struggle to regulate their emotions
  • Those with intense negative thoughts and feelings, including suicidal tendencies

During dialectical behavior therapy sessions, the therapist will work with the patient to help them accept the pain and discomfort in their life for the time being while they gradually work up the motivation to change the things that bring them dissatisfaction.

Midwest Center at Youngstown: Evidence-Based DBT and Addiction Treatment

If you have tried addiction treatment programs in the past but did not get the results you wanted, try DBT and addiction treatment at Midwest Center at Youngstown. Our evidence-based programs are designed to help you overcome addiction and co-occurring disorders for the long term. Reach out to us at 844.544.0502 for a treatment program proven to get results.