What is DBT?

A “dialectic” is two seemingly opposite concepts that can both be seen as true. One central dialectic in DBT is that of acceptance and change. We teach people to accept the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that they experience and at the same time, work towards improvement in a healthy way. Another central dialectic is that of emotion and rationality. We teach people to recognize and experience their emotions and at the same time, recognize and react effectively in line with their goals.

DBT uses four sets of skills to help individuals act effectively when faced with overwhelming emotions:


This is the foundational set of skills that underlies the other three. The objective of mindfulness is awareness. Individuals with emotion dysregulation are taught to pay close attention to internal signals and experiences as well as external ones.

This ability to shift attention toward – and away from – various stimuli provides building blocks for recognizing and appropriately adjusting emotions, thoughts, and behavior.

Emotion Regulation:
This set of skills teaches the necessary behavioral steps and thought processes needed to stay away from experiences and situations that can trigger emotional instability, as well as increasing engagement in healthy experiences that promote stability and life satisfaction.
Distress Tolerance:
This set of skills focuses on ways to get through periods of unavoidable intense negative emotions without losing control. Tolerance of high distress levels involves the use of acceptance, relaxation, distraction, and problem-solving strategies.
Interpersonal Effectiveness:
This set of skills helps guide interpersonal interactions in a healthy manner, and that facilitates healthy relationships rather than destructive ones.