Although DBT was not developed for anxiety and depression, elements of DBT and many DBT skills have been shown to be helpful in the treatment of these conditions. In fact, many other treatments developed for anxiety and depression incorporate many of the skills and concepts taught in DBT.
A core principle of DBT is the dialect between validation and change. As a behavioral therapy, DBT encourages and teaches skills to be used for real and tangible change while simultaneously validating and accepting exactly where the client is at the current moment. Validation helps clients struggling with anxiety or depression feel accepted and understood. This in turn increases motivation and receptiveness to making the changes to their behavior and thinking that will help them better manage their symptoms.
One focus of DBT is understanding and regulating one’s emotions. DBT provides a framework for those with anxiety and depression to fully understand and then manage what is happening in their inner world. The more understanding, acceptance, and knowledge that one has of their emotions, the more equipped they are to deal with them and make positive change.
Another focus of DBT is learning the tangible skills needed to live a more effective and meaningful life. Each of the four modules contains practical skills that can help combat and reduce the intensity of anxiety and depression. For example, when someone is anxious they have difficulty grounding themselves and staying in the present. Mindfulness exercises can better enable them to be in them in the present without judging or attaching themselves to their anxious thoughts. Emotional regulation skills can help with practical ways to deal with depression. For example, a skill such as opposite action can help with depression by encouraging someone to do the opposite of how they feel, thus changing their emotional reaction and lowering the level of depression. Interpersonal effectiveness skills can help correct some of the relationship-interfering behaviors that may accompany anxiety or depression.