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What is the Difference Between
CBT and DBT?

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Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) are both forms of psychotherapy that are predominantly used to help treat mental health and substance use. In fact, at its core DBT is a form of CBT. As a result, they share many similarities in addition to their differences. Both CBT and DBT are useful tools in our addiction treatment programs in PA.

If you are struggling with mental health issues or substance use, you may benefit from looking into our therapy options.

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

cbt vs dbtCognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that is also referred to as talk therapy. CBT is typically done in a one-on-one setting between a therapist and a patient. CBT focuses on the link between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how they play a role in your mental health or addiction.

During cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, your therapist will help break down the proverbial walls in order to target the source of your mental health or substance use issues. Once they have identified these negative thoughts, behaviors, or actions they will work with you to replace those bad or unhelpful patterns with healthier, and better ones.

Essentially, CBT reprograms the brain to eliminate all the negative things and replace them with more positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

What Is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

Dialectical behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy used to treat people that experience intense emotions. DBT is actually a modified form of cognitive behavioral therapy. It was originally created in order to treat Borderline Personality Disorder but was expanded to also address other types of problems regarding mental health.

The main goal of DBT is to help patients balance their emotions and improve their overall patterns of behavior. This is done by practicing mindfulness, increasing tolerance for distress, strengthening emotional regulation skills, and growing relationships.

CBT reprograms the brain in order to eliminate harmful thoughts, behaviors, and actions, whereas with DBT you learn to accept them. Once you have accepted these harmful patterns you can learn how to handle them in a healthier manner.

How Are CBT and DBT Similar?

talk therapy on couchBoth CBT and DBT are forms of talk therapy that encourage positive thinking. DBT was originally developed as a type of CBT. Because of this similarity, the two share many commonalities.

For starters, both cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy are forms of talk therapy that help clients battle negative thoughts. This means that both types of therapies involve having deep conversations with a therapist to express their feelings and emotions.

Both therapies are heavily focused on clients’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how the three are intertwined together. The therapist will analyze how your thoughts and feelings may be influencing your behaviors, which may ultimately lead to mental health or substance use issues.

How Do CBT and DBT Differ?

Technically dialectical behavioral therapy is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, but they do share some differences. It is important to understand the differences between CBT and DBT, especially when seeking out therapy.

Knowing the differences will not only help give you a better understanding of both CBT and DBT but will also help you better decide which therapy option is best for you and your needs.

Cognitive behavioral therapy typically has a shorter time commitment than dialectical behavioral therapy. CBT therapists will work with their patients to achieve their goals and then begin to wean them off therapy. CBT programs can be as short as 6 weeks and as long as 20 weeks.

Dialectical behavioral therapy is a much more comprehensive therapy program. DBT therapists focus more on the big picture and address each issue one by one. Oftentimes, there is also a group therapy component to a DBT program. These group sessions allow you to work on practical life skills such as communicating with others. As a result, DBT programs can last anywhere from 6 months to several years.

Quite possibly the biggest difference between cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy is how each therapy method approaches the person in therapy.

CBT utilizes critical thinking as a way to help reprogram the brain to eliminate negative thoughts and behaviors. As a result, it is a much more logic-based therapy method.

CBT accomplishes this by utilizing the following techniques

  • Setting goals
  • Problem-solving/self-sufficiency
  • Identifying negative thoughts and patterns

DBT, on the other hand, focuses more on mindfulness. DBT therapists look at how the person in therapy interacts not just with others but also with themselves. Instead of reprogramming their brain, those in DBT are taught to live and accept their thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Some of the techniques used in DBT include

  • Interpersonal effectiveness
  • Regulating emotions
  • Mindfulness

Another major difference between CBT and DBT is the goals set forth with each type of therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is significantly more goal-oriented. CBT is designed to identify the problem and then fix it. The process of identifying the problem and fixing it is also typically done in a finite period of time.

On the other hand, while dialectical behavioral therapy also has goals, these goals are not necessarily the be-all-end-all that they are with CBT. The main goal of DBT is to help the person accept themself for who they are. Instead of trying to eliminate their flaws, the ultimate goal is to learn how to better accept and deal with their flaws in a healthier manner.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is almost exclusively done in a 1-on-1 setting. The therapist and patient will work together and the therapist will often assign “homework” in between sessions.

Dialectical behavioral therapy has both an individual and group therapy component to it. With DBT, both individual and group therapy are used to complement one another and teach valuable life skills.

What Do CBT and DBT Treat?

Since cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy have so many differences, each one is designed to treat different types of substance and mental health issues.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is most effective in treating things such as

  • Phobias
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Eating disorders (Anorexia, Bulimia, etc)
  • Gambling addiction
  • Attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder (ADD/ADHD)
  • Smoking
  • Substance use

Dialectical behavioral therapy is effective in treating

  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Eating disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Substance use

Which Option Is Best For Addiction Treatment?

Both cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy are effective forms of treatment for substance use. While both CBT and DBT address substance use and addiction, the therapy methods have some functional differences.

So, how do you know which option is best for you? Well, let’s take a look at how each therapy method addresses substance use and addiction.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Addiction

Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to identify a client’s problem and solve it as quickly as possible. Say your therapist has concluded through cognitive behavioral therapy that stress was the main trigger of your substance use. They will focus solely on this trigger and work with you to handle your stress in a healthier manner.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy for Addiction

Like CBT, DBT works to identify the problem on the surface. The difference is that DBT is used to dig deeper than surface-level problems. If stress is the trigger for your substance use, DBT will help you better understand the root causes of your stress.

With dialectical therapy, the goal isn’t just to eliminate the stress, it’s to help better understand the stress and how it affects every aspect of your life. From there you can better manage your stress without the use of drugs or alcohol.

DBT also aims to eliminate the feelings of judgment or criticism that some might feel with CBT. DBT therapists focus on acceptance and validation as well as helping their patients identify their strengths instead of focusing solely on their weaknesses.

What Type of Therapy is Right For Me?

mental health problemNot every type of therapy works for every type of person and their condition. That’s why different therapy options exist. If you have read this blog and are still unsure which therapy option is best for you, especially when it comes to substance use and addiction treatment, you can always consult with a treatment professional. They can recommend a treatment plan that they feel will work best for you and your needs. In some cases, it might be recommended that you participate in both cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy.

At MPower Wellness, we understand the value of both CBT and DBT. That’s why we offer both treatment options at our facility. In addition to CBT and DBT, we also offer

If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health condition or a substance use problem, we have treatment plans and therapy options available to cater to your needs. Contact us to learn more about our various therapies and treatment plans so we can get you started on the road to recovery today!