Dialectical behavior therapy is a style of cognitive behavior therapy developed by Marsha M. Linehan in the 1980s. Cognitive psychology studies mental processes such as how people think and learn. Dialectics is a philosophical concept stating that change happens when one opposing force is stronger than the other.
DBT was initially used for borderline personality patients who typically lack coping mechanisms for their extreme swings in emotion. The goal is to help them manage their emotions and improve their social skills. Dialectical behavior therapy is also used for other types of psychological problems, such as eating disorders and substance abuse, and for people who have suicidal thoughts or urges to harm themselves.
Learning new behaviors to manage stress and improve relationships are the primary aspects of DBT. The four strategies used to help a patient change are skills training, exposure therapy, cognitive therapy and contingency management. For example, patients might role play to learn new ways to interact with people, or they may be safely exposed to thoughts or situations they had previously avoided. Validation is also a key ingredient in DBT. Many people are resistant to change, so the therapist offers sympathy and understanding to the patient while simultaneously encouraging a change in thinking and behavior.