How DBT Can Help Your Loved One

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) has helped many people overcome mental illness and substance use disorder (SUD). It is a relatively new practice that comes from a more common form of treatment—cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). If your loved one needs treatment for mental health or addiction, DBT may help them heal. 

What Is DBT?

DBT was initially designed to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD) patients. Upon its success, it was then applied to other disorders. It is known to be successful in treating SUD, eating disorders, and suicidal ideations and behaviors.

DBT uses five specific functions to provide treatment. The five functions are:

  1. Enhancing capabilities: This focuses on teaching the client skills they may be lacking due to their disorder. These skills include regulating emotions, being in the present moment (mindfulness), navigating interpersonal situations, and tolerating distress. 
  2. Generalizing capabilities: This function helps the client apply the skills learned in function 1 to daily life. 
  3. Improving motivation and reducing dysfunctional behaviors: In this function, the client works on improving the skills they still lack. This could mean monitoring the progress of a certain skill with a diary.
  4. Enhancing and maintaining therapist capabilities and motivation: This function involves the client and their therapist working together to improve the person's motivation. The therapist provides support, validation, continued skill training and building, and encouragement.
  5. Structuring the environment: The last function involves creating a structured environment for the client. This involves modifying their current environment so that the disorder is not triggered. 

DBT Used to Treat Addiction

As mentioned earlier, DBT was used originally to treat BPD, but mental health professionals have expanded its use to treat other disorders. Most commonly, DBT is used to treat substance use disorder (SUD).

SUD is a dysfunction in the brain. It is not that the person necessarily wants to consume substances as much as they do, but more that their brain says it needs substances and bypassing the regulatory filters that might make that person recognize the harm it does. In this instance, DBT works to re-teach the brain to control substance-related impulses.

We can examine a few of the functions of DBT and see how they can be applied to treating addiction. In function 1, the client is taught how to cope with distress. When SUD is the issue, the individual is trying to manage "distress" is abstaining from substances.

Function 2 uses those skills to go through daily life without substance use. Function 3 is about monitoring that progress, such as cravings, and seeing how frequent they are and what the client can do to mitigate the triggers. Finally, function 4 might involve further, more in-depth work with a therapist.

Lastly, function 5 is about changing the person's environment. This could be something like changing the social circles that the person hangs out with or removing substances and accessories for substance use from the home. Doing so lowers the chances of the client encountering a triggering situation and makes their environment a more recovery-supportive atmosphere.

How DBT Can Help Your Loved One

Whether your loved one is suffering from a mental health disorder, substance use disorder, or both, DBT can be very beneficial. DBT works, and it can turn your loved one's disorder around. What's more, DBT can not only help your loved one with the issue at hand, but it will improve their life overall. 

DBT involves both long-term and short-term success. Since it works on creating new behaviors, DBT can actually help synapses fire differently in the brain. In addition, synapse structuring is proven to promote effective long-term results.

One of the most important ways that DBT can help your loved one is in how they handle triggers and relapses. Triggers and relapses are the most challenging parts of recovery, whether it is a mental health or substance use disorder. For some people, overcoming these things is a daily struggle. When these individuals participate in DBT, their chances of success are much higher. Through DBT, they learn how to cope and handle themselves in stressful or triggering situations.

For example, let's look at someone who suffers from alcohol use disorder (AUD). Family gatherings might be difficult for that person because alcohol consumption may be prevalent at the event. However, after DBT treatment, that person might have enough control of their triggers to be comfortable attending the gathering. Additionally, they have the tools to conduct themselves properly if they become too overwhelmed. 

Lastly, DBT can help not only your loved one in their personal life but in their relationships too. That means if your loved one goes through DBT, your relationship with them can only benefit. You will be able to see them grow and function in the world in ways you might never have thought they could.

It can be difficult to know what treatment plan can best help your loved one. There are so many different practices that have proven results. However, research shows that one of the best methods of treatment for those with a mental illness or substance use disorder is dialectical behavior therapy. You can find DBT treatment at NorthStar Transitions, located in Boulder, CO. Our experienced staff can help you and the ones you care about navigate this difficult period in life. If you or a loved one needs treatment, you want to do all you can to help. You can take the first steps by calling us today at (303) 558-6400.

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