This content was written by Carrie Carlton, Clinical Director (LCSW)

Part of recovering from an addiction is unearthing the causes of your addiction and learning how to develop new ways of thinking and behaving that will finally allow you to live differently.

Research has shown that dialectical behavior therapy, usually provided in a dialectical behavior therapy treatment center, has been effective in treating addiction, as it has for other illnesses and conditions, like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders.

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

In the late 1980s, psychologist Marsha M. Linehan used cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) to treat patients with borderline personality disorder when she developed dialectical behavior therapy in response to what she viewed as its limitations.

I love Beachway… I had a great time learning about the disease I suffer from. I’m so happy to be myself again. This place had GREAT therapy that I needed. I HIGHLY recommend this place to anyone.

Nikki S., Beachway Therapy Center

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How is Dialectical Behavior Therapy Different from CBT?

women going through dbt for addiction

Dialectical behavior therapy is a type of CBT that brings invalidation, or a communicated understanding of why you might behave in a particular way, and dialectics.

In this context, Dialectics refers to bringing two opposite things together, specifically the wholehearted acceptance of an individual as they are with the knowledge that they must change. So while your therapist may understand who you are and why you behave as you do and accept you, they also know that you must willingly change if you are to live a free, more complete life.

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Dialectical Behavior Theory

DBT is based on the theory that some human beings react in an unusual way to the emotions we experience through our interactions with our friends, romantic partners, and family members. These intense and long-lasting emotional responses can affect your life in unwelcome ways.


If you experience emotions in an unusually intense way, you are probably being pushed around by mood swings, feeling happy in an almost euphoric way before descending into gloom as the result of a likely misunderstood happening or a belief without a base in logic.

Also, you probably see the world around you in binary terms: For example, you may have a friend who is annoyed with you, but you believe she now loathes you and will walk out of your life.

The Three Characteristics of Dialectical Behavior Therapy

  1. Supportive: Dialectical behavior therapy focuses on supporting you, on helping you to unearth your strengths to build on them, making it possible for you to feel good about who you are and how you live.
  2. Cognitive: Your therapy will help you to understand your thought processes, working with you to identify the beliefs underneath your thoughts, and helping you to confront unhelpful beliefs and ideas.
  3. Collaborative: You will not be alone in DBT therapy. Your therapist will role-play problems in your relationships, modeling new ways of communicating and thinking.

You will also be assigned real-world homework that will bring therapy techniques – like calming techniques  – directly into your life and relationships.

Cornerstones of Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Weekly individual psychotherapy sessions

In weekly individual psychotherapy sessions, you will review the past week, tackling any serious issues first, like impulses to self-harm, and then working to deal with any issues that may interfere with your progress in therapy.

Weekly group session

A therapist will lead weekly group sessions, which are usually about 2.5 hours long, where you will develop practical skills that fall into four categories: being effective in communicating with other people, building a tolerance to distress and accepting reality, the regulation of emotions, and mindfulness.

At Beachway Therapy Center, we have trained therapists to help you decide which kind of therapy you would like to commit to as you begin your journey to a life well-lived.

This content was written by Carrie Carlton, Clinical Director (LCSW)

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