Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) are two forms of talk therapy. Both forms of therapy have patients working with psychiatrists to learn and teach skills to help them manage their mental health. While they’re both highly effective and important tools in aiding mental health, the two are very different approaches. Knowing the differences between the two is important to understand how each therapy approach works.
CBT focuses on how thoughts, feeling, and behaviors all influence one another. For example, if you think someone is mad at you (thought), you may avoid them (action), and feel sad about it (feeling). CBT teaches that this relationship can be beneficial though, because if you have a positive change in one area (thought, feeling, action) then it can lead to positive changes in all factors.
Research shows that CBT is an effective approach to many different mental health problems. It’s most often common in treating depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse issues.
This form of therapy has structure, is short-term, and focuses on the present and on goals. CBT usually starts by educating about the particular mental illness and the challenges it brings to a person’s life. Then CBT teaches skills and strategies to help make positive changes in their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
DBT is actually based on CBT, so they do share similarities. However, DBT has a greater focus on the emotional and social aspects of life compared to CBT. DBT was developed to help people cope with extreme emotions and harmful behaviors. It’s an evidence-based therapy approach, where people learn how to regulate emotions.
Current research shows that DBT is a great treatment option for mental illnesses. It’s most often used for borderline personality disorder, but it is also effective at helping with self-harm, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, and eating disorders.
One of the key differences between DBT and CBT is the focus on relationships and validations. DBT teaches patients that their experiences are real and helps them accept who they are. Relationships are important in DBT, both with the psychiatrists, but also with peers in group therapy settings.
When comparing the two, it’s clear to see they have their differences.
CBT mainly focuses on the relationship between feelings, emotions, and behavior. DBT focuses on regulating emotions and building social relationships.
Both forms of psychotherapy have their benefits. Even though they treat a lot of the same mental disorders, some people respond better to one form over another. It may take some trial and error to find what form of therapy works for you. People who leave CBT and DBT find they greatly benefit from the skills they learned during their sessions. Eventually, their new skills and strategies become second nature in their life, helping them for a lifetime.
Since 2003, the Delray Center for Healing has provided exceptional psychiatric and therapeutic care for mental health, eating, and substance use disorders. To learn more about our philosophy and treatment approach, download our free e-book, “Psychiatry Redefined,” written by our founder and medical director, Raul J. Rodriguez, MD.