DBT stands for dialectical behavior therapy, a technique used to treat many mental health disorders. Initially, it was created to aid those with suicidal ideation. Developed by Dr. Marsha M. Linehan, DBT was created to address and encourage two things: change and acceptance.

DBT has since been used to treat other disorders such as borderline personality disorder, anxiety, depression, and more. DBT has proven to also be useful in treating co-occurring disorders. As described by Linda A. Dimeff and Marsha M. Linehan, in their article “Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Substance Abusers,” which appears in the Addiction Science and Clinical Practice journal, “When DBT is successful, the patient learns to envision, articulate, pursue, and sustain goals that are independent of his or her history of out-of-control behavior, including substance abuse, and is better able to grapple with life’s ordinary problems.”

The use of DBT for those with substance use disorder (SUD) and co-occurring disorders continues to grow. The principles of acceptance and change presented in DBT are consistent with the emphasis on both throughout the 12-Step process. This correlation allows recipients to relate therapy to their learnings in 12-Step groups and apply similar strategies throughout treatment. At Enlightened Solutions, we incorporate both the Twelve Steps and DBT into our treatment programs.

It is important to recognize that DBT is a comprehensive treatment approach rather than a single treatment strategy. Every client is different, having different needs and circumstances that may require some adaptation and special attention. Because DBT can be used to treat various disorders, settings and specifics surrounding treatment can vary.

Functions of DBT

Despite any variations or adaptations, DBT provided for SUD or co-occurring disorders should always address five specific functions. As discussed by Alexander L. Chapman in his 2006 Psychiatry journal article, these five functions of DBT include:

  • Enhancing capabilities
  • Generalizing capabilities
  • Improving motivation and reducing dysfunctional behaviors
  • Enhancing and maintaining therapist capabilities and motivation
  • Structuring the environment

#1. Enhancing Capabilities

Typically, those receiving DBT are in need of developing skills in a few key areas. These areas include interpersonal skills, emotional regulation, mindfulness, and tolerance. It is important for those with co-occurring disorders to enhance these abilities in order to succeed in recovery.

Many times, these skills are addressed through group therapy. This allows for discussion and practicing of these skills with others working on similar goals. Additionally, therapists may assign homework to encourage practicing the skills between group sessions.

#2. Generalizing Capabilities

This function refers to the transferability of the skills learned to the lives of those receiving therapy. Individual sessions are offered to individualize strategies and offer guidance regarding ways to integrate these new skills into daily life. Homework assignments provide opportunities to practice skills such as emotional regulation and mindfulness in real-life situations.

#3. Improving Motivation and Reducing Dysfunctional Behaviors

This function involves self-assessment of behaviors and tracking patterns between individual therapy sessions. This allows the therapist to identify persisting issues and prioritize the behaviors according to risk and consequence. The therapist will determine why the behaviors are occurring and will work to develop strategies for change.

#4. Enhancing and Maintaining Therapist Capabilities and Motivation

It is important for DBT providers to remain focused, compassionate, non-judgmental, and supportive of their clients. This function involves consistent collaboration among therapists to promote problem-solving and offer encouragement. Treating those with co-occurring disorders can be delicate; thus, therapists must be able to navigate difficult and sensitive situations.

#5. Structuring the Environment

For those with co-occurring disorders, it can be common to have people or places that may be triggering. It is important to ensure the environment created is free of triggers and is supportive of the goals of the individual. Therapists may encourage a change in social circles or modifications of certain environments to encourage success.

DBT in Treatment

As mentioned, DBT focuses on change in behavior and acceptance simultaneously. It is important for therapy recipients to work to change behavior patterns that resulted in their addiction while also accepting the things that they cannot change.

DBT offers opportunities for skill development essential for coping with your diagnosis while successfully navigating treatment and recovery. By developing skills such as emotional regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal efficacy, and mindfulness, you can better cope with your current situation and come prepared to handle obstacles you may face in the future.

DBT techniques can be incorporated into all aspects of treatment and are most effective when this is the case. Co-occurring disorders can determine how you may experience, respond to, and understand substance abuse. The adaptability and generalization of skills associated with this treatment method make it beneficial for those with substance abuse disorders and mental health diagnoses. DBT can help you heal and learn to cope with what lies ahead in recovery.

Substance use disorder often co-occurs with other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, etc.  While it was created to be a treatment for people with suicidal ideation, DBT, or dialectical behavior therapy, is now often used by treatment facilities to address substance abuse and co-occurring disorders. DBT is a method or program designed to evoke change and promote acceptance. Enlightened Solutions incorporates DBT in every aspect of treatment. The skills developed through DBT help with developing positive relationships, coping with conflict, emotional regulation, mindfulness, and being present. At Enlightened Solutions, we conduct a thorough assessment at intake to determine if you have a co-occurring disorder. This allows us to formulate a personalized treatment plan to address your specific needs. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse and could benefit from treatment, give Enlightened Solutions a call today at (833) 801-LIVE.