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DBT vs CBT: What's the Difference?

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) are both forms of psychotherapy that aim to help individuals overcome emotional and behavioural challenges.

CBT focuses on helping individuals identify and challenge negative thoughts and behaviours, and replace them with more positive, adaptive ones. It's based on the idea that thoughts, emotions, and behaviours are interconnected and that changing one can lead to changes in the others.

Research has shown CBT to be effective for the treatment of generalised anxiety disorder & obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However, some people find CBT of limited effectiveness due to its focus on thoughts & cognitions.

CBT is part of the 'second wave' in psychotherapy. The first wave was Freudian theory & similar psychodynamic models. The first wave models focused mainly on developmental exploration & understanding. The second wave moved more focus towards behavioural focus & interventions.

DBT, on the other hand, combines CBT with mindfulness and acceptance-based strategies. It emphasises the importance of accepting and coping with difficult emotions, rather than trying to eliminate them. DBT also focuses on teaching specific skills to help individuals regulate their emotions, such as mindfulness, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.

DBT is considered the gold-standard treatment for borderline personality disorder (BPD) & other conditions where emotion regulation is a core difficulty. DBT is also considered a safe & effective 'stage 1' treatment for complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). The term 'stage 1' refers to the first therapeutic model people may engage in to treat their symptoms. DBT is recommended as a stage 1 treatment due to evidence that engaging too soon in stage 2 therapy, such as traditional trauma therapy, can worsen PTSD symptoms in some individuals.

DBT straddles the second wave & the third wave in psychotherapy. Third wave theory introduces concepts of mindfulness & acceptance. Other third wave models include acceptance & commitment therapy (ACT), & compassion-focused therapy (CFT).

In summary, while both CBT and DBT have the goal of helping individuals overcome emotional and behavioural challenges, CBT focuses on changing negative thoughts and behaviours, while DBT focuses on accepting and managing emotions and teaching specific skills for emotional regulation.

Thinking of trying DBT? Get a taste of DBT with our DBT: 101 self-paced program. For a fraction of the cost of a therapy session, this program will introduce you to DBT concepts & skills to manage times of high distress. These are not airy-fairy skills... they are practical & work FAST!

Want more intensive support? We have a range of DBT programs for ages 13 & over, including 1:1 sessions; our Intensive DBT Group program; & our online semi-supported Emotion Mastery program.

Not sure which program might suit you best? Drop us a line for a confidential chat- we love to help!!!

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