If you feel like your emotions are a runaway train, with intense highs and lows that threaten to derail you, there’s hope. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a powerful tool designed specifically to help you manage overwhelming emotions, destructive thoughts, and impulsive behaviors. Originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD), DBT has proven effective for a wide range of mental health conditions.

Think of DBT as a blend of acceptance and change – learning to acknowledge and live with difficult emotions, while also developing powerful skills to transform them.  It’s more than just coping; DBT is about building a life you truly want to live.

If you’re ready to step off that emotional rollercoaster and discover a path towards inner peace, DBT could be the answer. In this article, we’ll explore what dialectical behavior therapy is, how it works, and where to find DBT programs in Canada.

The Power of Opposites: How DBT Uses Acceptance AND Change

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) works because it understands that two seemingly contradictory ideas can both be true. You need to accept where you are – your emotions, your behaviors – even if they’re painful.  But, you also need the skills to change the things that are harming you. DBT teaches you both.

What “Dialectical” Really Means

The word ‘dialectical’ might sound fancy, but it basically means “holding two opposite ideas at the same time.”  Change and acceptance are grouped together in DBT to help you build a better life.

The Stages of DBT: Your Path to Wellness

DBT therapy is often organized into stages, each with a different focus: Each stage builds upon the last to help patients navigate from a point of turmoil to one of inner harmony. It’s a continuum that progresses from learning to control disruptive behaviour to achieving profound life goals.

  1. Stage 1: Taking Control: The first step is learning to manage out-of-control emotions and behaviors that harm you or your relationships (this might mean skills for managing things like self-harm, suicidal thoughts, or intense anger)
  2. Stage 2: Healing from the Past: Once you have more control, you can begin to process painful experiences and understand how they affect you today.
  3. Stage 3: Building a Life Worth Living: DBT helps you define your goals and values and build a sense of self-respect.
  4. Stage 4: Finding Deeper Meaning (Optional): For some people, DBT includes exploring spirituality and finding a deeper connection to something larger than themselves.

From Chaos to Control: How DBT Transforms Lives

Imagine your emotions are a hurricane ripping through your life, leaving behind a trail of hurt and broken relationships. That’s where many people start when they begin dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). This powerful form of therapy is designed specifically to help you weather that emotional storm and emerge with a whole new set of skills.

DBT works because it teaches you how to take control of harmful impulses and express your emotions in healthy, productive ways. Through DBT’s stages, you’ll gain mastery over your emotions, so you can build the strong relationships and fulfilling life you deserve.

Breaking Down the Core Skills of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)

Think of DBT as giving you a powerful toolkit for managing your life.  The skills you’ll learn in DBT therapy are divided into four main categories:

  • Mindfulness: This is all about learning to focus on the present moment without judging yourself or your experiences. Mindfulness is the foundation of everything else in DBT.
  • Distress Tolerance: Life is going to throw some curveballs. Distress tolerance skills help you weather those difficult moments without making things worse (for example, ways to cope with intense emotions besides self-harm).
  • Emotion Regulation: This is about understanding your emotions, why you feel the way you do, and learning healthy ways to manage those feelings.
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness: DBT helps you build healthier relationships by teaching you how to communicate your needs, set boundaries, and resolve conflicts fairly.

Why Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness is the first skill taught in DBT, and for good reason. When you’re mindful, you’re able to step back from your thoughts and feelings and simply observe them, rather than getting swept away. This gives you space to  make better choices about how to respond.

Getting Through Tough Times with Distress Tolerance

We all experience pain and uncomfortable emotions sometimes. Distress tolerance skills help you  cope with those difficult moments in healthy ways. This might involve self-soothing techniques, ways to distract yourself, or even simply reminding yourself that “this feeling is temporary.”

Building Stronger Relationships: DBT’s Interpersonal Skills

Have you ever felt unheard, misunderstood, or walked all over in your relationships? DBT can help. Interpersonal effectiveness skills are all about learning to communicate effectively, set healthy boundaries, and navigate conflict in a way that’s fair to you and the other person.

Think of it like this:  DBT gives you the tools to speak up for what you need in relationships without bulldozing others.  It also teaches you how to avoid getting pulled into other people’s drama.  The result?  Stronger, healthier connections where everyone feels respected.

Finding Balance: DBT’s Approach to Emotion Regulation

Ever feel like your emotions are in the driver’s seat, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and out of control?  That’s where DBT’s emotion regulation skills come in.  This part of DBT is about understanding your feelings, figuring out what triggers those big reactions, and learning healthy ways to manage them.

The goal isn’t to never feel angry, sad, or anxious – emotions are a normal part of life. But DBT can help you avoid getting swept away by those emotions, so you can make better choices about how you respond.

DBT Skill Key Benefits Application Techniques
Mindfulness Increased presence and awareness; reduced impulsivity Observing, describing, and participating without judgement
Distress Tolerance Resilience in the face of stress; crisis survival Self-soothing, distraction, acceptance of reality
Interpersonal Effectiveness Enhanced communication; relationship management Assertiveness, active listening, expressing needs
Emotional Regulation Better emotional control; rational decision-making Identifying and labeling emotions, increasing positive events

As these DBT skills sink into your daily life, they transform how you experience and interact with the world around you, promising a more stable and fulfilling existence in which you thrive, not just survive.

Applying DBT Techniques to Everyday Challenges

The real power of DBT comes from putting those skills into action. It’s one thing to learn about mindfulness or distress tolerance in a therapy session, and another to use those tools when you’re feeling stressed, angry, or overwhelmed.

Think of DBT skills as your emotional first-aid kit. The more you practice using them in everyday situations – even small ones – the stronger those skills become.  That means the next time a big challenge comes along, you’ll be better equipped to handle it.

In-the-Moment Coaching: DBT in Real Situations

Imagine this:  you’re having a tough moment, your emotions are spiraling, and you’re not sure what to do.  That’s where DBT’s in-the-moment coaching comes in.  This means having access to your therapist (usually by phone) when you need them most.  They’ll help you walk through your DBT skills step-by-step,  so you can get through that difficult situation without making things worse.

This kind of real-time support is what sets DBT apart. It’s like having a coach in your pocket, helping you apply what you learn in therapy to the messy stuff of real life.

Applying DBT Skills to Specific Challenges

DBT isn’t just about what happens in therapy sessions. Here’s how those skills can translate to everyday situations:

  • Work conflict? Mindfulness can help you step back from your anger and choose your words wisely, instead of saying something you’ll regret.
  • Feeling overwhelmed? Distress tolerance skills can give you healthy ways to cope with stress, so you don’t turn to unhealthy habits.
  • Big emotions taking over? Emotion regulation gives you tools to understand your feelings and make better choices about how to handle them.
  • Relationship struggles? Interpersonal effectiveness skills help you communicate your needs, set boundaries, and resolve conflicts in a healthy way.
DBT Skill Real-Life Application Outcome
Mindfulness Remaining attentive in conversations, reducing multitasking Improved focus and connection with others
Distress Tolerance Utilizing calming techniques during a crisis Better management of emotional distress
Emotion Regulation Recognizing and labeling emotions before responding Reduced likelihood of emotional outbursts
Interpersonal Effectiveness Assertive communication and negotiation in conflicts Healthier relationships and resolutions to conflicts

Remember, the key to successful DBT application lies in consistent practice and willingness to engage with the strategies you’ve learned. By actively integrating DBT exercises into your day-to-day experiences, you pave the way for lasting behavior change and enhanced personal resilience.

The Building Blocks of DBT: Understanding the Components

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) isn’t just one thing – it’s a carefully designed combination of different therapies that work together to help you change your life.  Think of it like a house: each component of DBT is a building block that helps create a safe, supportive space for you to heal and grow.

Group Skills Training: Learning Together, Growing Together

One of the most important parts of DBT is group skills training.  These group sessions are where you’ll learn the foundational DBT skills:  mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.

Group skills training isn’t just about the skills themselves, though. It’s also a chance to connect with other people who understand what you’re going through and to practice your new skills in a supportive environment.

Individual Therapy: Where DBT Gets Personal

While group sessions teach you the skills, individual therapy is where you really put them into action. It’s a safe space to work one-on-one with your DBT therapist, figuring out how to apply those skills to the specific challenges in your life.  Your therapist will  help you stay motivated, troubleshoot roadblocks, and celebrate your victories along the way.

The Power of Teamwork: DBT Consultation Teams

You might not interact with them directly, but the DBT consultation team plays a crucial role in your success. This group of therapists meets regularly to discuss cases, share ideas, and support each other.  This behind-the-scenes collaboration helps ensure that your therapist is always getting the best possible guidance, so they can give you the best possible care.

Taking the Next Step: Finding DBT Treatment

If you think DBT might be right for you, the next step is finding a qualified DBT therapist or program in your area. Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Ask your doctor or current therapist: They may have referrals to DBT specialists or know of DBT programs in your community.
  • Search online directories: Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/therapists/dialectical-dbt) and similar websites list therapists and often allow you to filter by specialty.
  • Contact mental health organizations: Organizations like the Canadian Mental Health Association (https://cmha.ca/) may offer resources or referrals.
  • Look for specialized DBT clinics: Some cities have clinics dedicated solely to providing DBT treatment.

Important Questions to Ask:

Before choosing a DBT therapist or program, make sure to ask about:

  • Their DBT training and experience
  • Types of treatment offered: (individual, group, phone coaching, etc.)
  • Program cost and insurance coverage
  • Their approach and whether it feels like a good fit for you

Don’t Give Up!

Finding the right DBT provider might take some time.  Remember, you deserve to find a therapist you feel comfortable with and who has the expertise to help you reach your goals.

The journey of self-discovery and healing can be arduous, but with DBT, you have a powerful ally. DBT offers a beacon of hope, illuminating the path towards emotional balance and a life of purpose.  By embracing the tools and insights of DBT, you can step out of the whirlwind of your emotions and into a place of strength and resilience. Remember, you have the power within you to create a life you love – and DBT can help you get there.


What is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)?

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy designed to help people manage their emotions, handle stress, improve relationships and live with intense emotions. Initially developed to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD), DBT is now used for a variety of psychological issues.

Who can benefit from DBT therapy?

While DBT was initially developed for individuals with borderline personality disorder, its effectiveness has also been proven for a multitude of other conditions, including but not limited to substance use disorders, depression, PTSD, and eating disorders.

How does DBT work in Canada and is it accessible?

In Canada, DBT is accessible via public health care systems and private practices. Mental health professionals trained in DBT offer individual therapy sessions, group skills training, and other components of the full DBT program to help patients develop the skills necessary for emotional and behavioral regulation.

What are the stages of DBT?

DBT is structured into four stages. The first stage focuses on gaining behavioral control, the second on experiencing emotions fully, the third on living with self-respect and achieving individual goals, and a possible fourth stage centers on finding spiritual fulfillment. The progression through stages is meant to move individuals from instability to a life that feels worth living.

How do acceptance-oriented interventions play a role in DBT?

Acceptance-oriented interventions are a crucial part of DBT. They involve therapists validating the patient’s feelings and behaviors as understandable within the context of their personal experiences and helping them to accept their reality while also working toward change.

What are the main skills taught in DBT?

The main skills taught in DBT include mindfulness (the practice of being fully aware and present), distress tolerance (dealing with pain in difficult situations without trying to change it), interpersonal effectiveness (navigating relationships more effectively), and emotional regulation (managing and changing intense emotions that are causing problems in a person’s life).

What differentiates in-the-moment coaching from standard therapy sessions in DBT?

In-the-moment coaching is a distinctive DBT technique where clients can reach out to their therapist between sessions for immediate guidance on applying DBT skills to real-life situations. This is particularly important in helping clients manage stressful situations as they occur.

Can DBT techniques be applied to day-to-day life?

Yes, one of the primary objectives of DBT is to teach skills that clients can use in their daily lives. This includes handling emotional crisis, improving relationships, and practicing mindfulness. Clients are encouraged to practice these skills consistently and apply them to specific challenges they encounter.

What is the purpose of group skills training in DBT?

Group skills training is a component of DBT where individuals learn and practice behavioural skills in a group setting. It serves as a supportive classroom where participants can learn from not only the trainer but also the experiences of their peers, thereby helping to reinforce positive behavior changes.

How important is the individual psychotherapy component in DBT?

Individual psychotherapy is a crucial element of DBT, giving clients a one-on-one setting to delve into personal challenges. It allows the therapist to tailor the DBT techniques to the individual’s unique circumstances and to work on motivation, understanding past behaviors, and planning for the future.