Behavioral therapies are among the most common forms of psychotherapy used to treat mental and behavioral health disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be the most common, and it’s used to help people learn about their thoughts and how they contribute to emotions. 

Dialectical behavior therapy is similar and was developed as a variation of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Both provide people with skills to help them cope with mental health problems, stress, and emotional issues. For people with mental health disorders, both therapies have been shown to improve their quality of life. 

As an evidence-based treatment that can be used to treat many different kinds of mental health disorders, CBT is one of the most useful forms of talk therapy. It’s specifically used to help people overcome faulty thinking that contributes to unhelpful or destructive behaviors. CBT also addresses perceptions and faulty beliefs that can determine the way you respond to challenges and triggers that could cause a relapse of symptoms.

DBT is similar. It’s also an evidence-based behavioral therapy used to treat mental and behavioral health problems. Like CBT, it helps to create better coping responses. It specifically addresses emotional instability with coping mechanisms that can be applied in the middle of challenging situations. 

DBT is a variation of CBT that psychologist Marsha Linehan developed. It was specifically designed to treat a particular mental health issue that involves emotional mood swings.

How do DBT and CBT compare, and how do you know which one is right for your needs? Learn more about these two useful psychotherapies and how they can help treat mental health problems. 

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that has been used to treat psychological and behavioral health issues. Doctors and therapists use CBT to treat depression, anxiety, marriage problems, eating disorders, substance use disorders, and even severe mental health issues. CBT is an evidence-based treatment option, and research indicates that the therapy can lead to quality of life improvements, as well as improved social and occupational functioning. In fact, CBT is among the first-line psychotherapies for many mental health issues, and it has been shown to be more effective than other options. 

Since CBT is an evidence-based practice applicable in various clinical settings, it’s one of the most common psychotherapies in the United States and around the world. It was first used to treat substance use disorders but has been adapted to treat other substance use and mental health problems.  

Cognitive behavioral therapy addresses your thoughts and how they influence your behavior. CBT works with three central principles, which include:

  • Psychological problems are partly based on unhelpful ways of thinking.
  • Psychological problems are partly based on unhelpful patterns of behavior.
  • People with psychological problems can learn better coping mechanisms, which can relieve symptoms and increase social or occupational functioning. 

CBT often involves identifying high-risk situations that can lead to triggers. For instance, if you have a substance use disorder, going to a party at a bar might be a high-risk situation. However, triggers can come from more subtle situations. They can even be in-born, coming from your thoughts and emotions. For instance, coming home to an empty house after work may cause negative emotions that lead to cravings as a coping mechanism. 

Recognizing and anticipating emotional triggers can help you identify thinking that leads to unhelpful behaviors. You can also learn to understand your behaviors and their motivations, as well as the behaviors of other people. 

One of the major functions of CBT is to increase self-efficacy, which is your belief in your ability to handle challenges that come your way. Through CBT, you can learn more effective coping responses to negative emotions and high-risk situations.

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

dbt vs cbt

Dialectical behavior therapy is another behavior therapy that is a modified version of cognitive behavioral therapy. It is often considered a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. DBT was originally designed to treat borderline personality disorder, but it has been adapted for various mental and behavioral health problems, including anxiety and depression.

DBT’s main goals are to accept your current circumstance and learn to live in the moment. Other important DBT factors include coping with stress, regulating your emotions, and improving your relationships with other people. 

It was originally used to help people with borderline personality disorder because it’s useful in treating people who struggle with regulating their emotions. BPD is associated with emotional instability, self-destructive behavior, and mood swings. 

However, DBT was found to be useful in treating other mental and behavioral health disorders that may involve emotional regulation issues, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s also used to treat self-destructive disorders like eating disorders. 

In DBT, you may develop mindfulness skills, which involves a meditative practice in which you learn to focus on thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and impulses. The gold is to help keep you grounded in the present moment and avoid anxieties about the future. DBT techniques can help you slow down during moments of emotional distress and learn better emotional regulation techniques.

The Difference Between CBT and DBT

CBT and DBT are similar, and they may overlap in some ways. Both give you the tools to cope with a mental or behavioral health issue. Both involve self-reflection and finding solutions to deal with challenges in your natural abilities. The difference between the two therapies is a matter of emphasis. For instance, CBT emphasizes emotional regulation, while CBT emphasizes thoughts and behaviors.

Cognitive behavioral therapy’s philosophical roots can be traced back to stoicism. Stoicism is often used to describe an attitude of stalwartness, but it’s a philosophy that dates back to the ancient greeks. Stoics believed that even if you couldn’t control your circumstances, you could control your reaction to them. With such thinking, you could react well to even catastrophic circumstances. 

In CBT, you learn that you can control your coping responses, even if you can control negative emotions or situations. A mental health problem can occur without a clear cause, and it’s out of your control that you’re struggling with it. However, you can gain control over how you respond and cope with it.

Dialectical behavior therapy is rooted in mindfulness, a practice of increasing your awareness of yourself and your surroundings without judgment. Mindfulness has a long history dating back thousands of years in India and Hinduism. Mindfulness emphasizes acceptance and judgment-free observation of yourself. 

DBT involves developing an awareness of what is happening inside and around you to help you learn to live in the moment. In some cases, you may learn about mindfulness and go through some mindfulness principles as a part of DBT.

Is CBT or DBT for Best Your Needs?

When you need treatment for a mental or behavioral health problem like alcoholism or depression, the first step is to speak to a doctor or psychologist. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis in order to get the treatment that’s right for your needs. If you enter an addiction treatment program, you’ll meet with a therapist to create a personalized treatment plan with specific objectives and goals. 

It’s likely that you will go through a biopsychosocial assessment that will explore your biological, psychological, and social needs. CBT is one of the most common therapies in addiction treatment. Not only is it useful in treating substance use disorders, but it’s also useful in treating many of the underlying issues often associated with substance use disorders. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy is so common that you will likely go through it at some point in treatment, or your therapist will use some principles of it in your treatment plan. Plus, CBT helps to inform the relapse prevention model, which is a strategy to help you avoid relapse during and after treatment. It’s also helpful in increasing your self-efficacy, which is vital for your mental health. 

However, DBT may help treat certain issues related to emotional instability. DBT offers exercises to gain more control over your emotions and to accept situations that are out of your control. It may be particularly helpful in treating anxiety disorders that involve catastrophization, or assuming the worst possible outcomes of small problems. 

You don’t have to choose one or the other. Your therapist may create a treatment plan that combines elements of both treatment types. At the end of the day, no two treatment plans are identical. The therapies that are best for your needs will depend on your substance use disorder and any other needs you have.

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