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What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

In the simplest sense, Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT, is a set of tools that can help you live a more rewarding life. By using these tools on a daily basis you can learn to build more satisfying relationships, develop skills to control your emotions and ultimately reduce that nagging sense of crisis in your life.

With practice, DBT can help you face your fears without being terrified, improve your judgment and fine-tune your observational skills. You will learn to tolerate frustration and distract yourself from negative feelings. Lastly you will learn how to develop more resiliency so you are able to bounce back from the symptoms of anxiety and depression. As a result, you'll feel better capable of coping with distress and will be on the road to a fulfilling life.

How does DBT Work?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy might sound complicated at first, but it's really not. It's basically a way to balance two or more opposites that are in conflict with each other. Think of all those times in life when your heart told you that you wanted one thing, but your head said you needed something else entirely. How many times have you wanted help but rejected any kind of support? Or maybe you really wanted your life to be better but you continued to engage in self-destructive behaviors? This conflict can stir up confusion and anxiety as well as set the stage for depression.

For many people, these conflicts pop up over and over throughout the day, reeking havoc and unraveling the very fabric of their lives. They want to have a good time but they're tormented by the thought that they should be more responsible. They long to take a chance and try something new but they're torn by feelings that they would rather stay safe and secure. Sound familiar? Lots of people feel hopeless and helpless to control their feelings.

Imagine how different your life would be if you could learn ways to balance these mismatched feelings. What would your day be like if you were able to dial down the reactivity and take control of the things that you really do have control over? DBT really can help you regulate your emotions, learn to tolerate stress and ultimately live more fully.

How DBT can help

Through DBT you can learn skills that when practiced daily can restore balance and smooth out the bumpy spots in life that drain away the joy of living.

There are four basic skills at the heart of DBT. While the basic skills might sound pretty simple, when put into practice they become powerful weapons in the fight to take control of your life.

Here's the "Cliff Notes" version of the four sets of skills that make up the foundation for DBT.

  1. Mindfulness: By staying more in the here and now instead of dwelling on past failures and future mistakes, you are better able to handle life's conflicts. DBT teaches you how to stay grounded and experience life in that moment. It's not about achieving a goal, it's about observing and participating in the here and now without drifting off and worrying about things in the future or obsessing about the past. The pay-off: You'll feel more empowered and better able to handle life's challenges.

  2. Distress tolerance: When you learn how to distract yourself from emotional reactivity and better tolerate distress, you can avoid those behaviors that worsen the situation. DBT teaches you to better tolerate frustration and stress without slipping into negative and destructive behaviors. The pay-off: You learn to let go and not to sweat the small stuff.

  3. Emotional regulation: These skills teach you that there are alternatives to the ineffective behaviors of the past and help you develop more resiliency. When you have negative emotions such as anger, sadness or loneliness you probably feel as if you have to get rid of them. Through DBT you learn to deal with strong emotions and delay gratification instead of acting out in a negative way. The pay-off: You learn you can have a strong impulse without acting upon it.

  4. Interpersonal effectiveness: By learning to respect yourself you are better able to have more effective and healthy relationships with others. DBT teaches you how to first recognize your needs and then teaches you ways to get those needs met. You also learn to balance your needs with the needs of others so that you are able to give and take within a relationship The pay-off: You become empowered and better able to communicate in clear and respectful ways, which leads to more satisfying relationships.

Who benefits from DBT?

Everyone can benefit from DBT because it helps you be less judgmental toward yourself and others. It can also help you accept life as it is instead of trying to control things that are beyond your control. In the end, DBT can help you manage your life more effectively. DBT can make a difference in anyone's life but it is especially beneficial for those with anxiety, shame and depression.

When depression strikes, most people feel a sense of hopelessness and lack of control. It is common to become self-absorbed and unable to see past what is troubling you. DBT can help you decrease the symptoms of depression by soothing yourself in healthy ways. One of the ways you can accomplish this is through distraction. Instead of becoming fixated on a few issues, you distract yourself by shifting your thoughts to something positive and tranquil. This helps you feel more in control and better able to lift yourself out of the symptoms of depression.

When people feel anxious they often overreact to anything and everything they see as a threat. They keep replaying the same threatening thoughts over and over in their minds. They often ignore the cues that could help them feel safer. DBT offers interventions to help you change those negative thoughts and self-evaluations so that you feel safe and can practice self-control. DBT can help you gain a new perspective on your emotions so you are less likely to slip into the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Why do you need a therapist trained in DBT?

To learn the DBT skills you really need the support of a therapist who fully understands how this type of therapy works. Mark Felber became educated in the essential skills of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) by immersing himself in hundreds of hours of DBT-related research and by participating in a series of trainings sponsored by Marsha Linnehan PhD and her organization Behavior Tech LLC. His use of DBT with individuals has deeply enriched his clinical work, and his clients have experienced profound therapeutic benefits from this powerful model of psychotherapy.


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