Things to Know Before Starting Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an effective method for treating a variety of mental health conditions, but most people do not know what it is or how it works. So, they may have questions about it — whether this treatment option is right for them, how it can help, and what to expect during therapy sessions. Whether you’ve been offered DBT or you’re looking into it for a loved one, we want to help you discover how it can contribute to the overall success of a healthier lifestyle by helping to manage intense emotions and cope with stress. Keep reading to learn more about DBT at NorthStar Transitions in Boulder, Colorado, and why we include it as part of our addiction recovery treatment plans. 


Dialectical behavior therapy is a way to help individuals find a more accessible option to regulate their emotional reactions and identify negative thought patterns. It builds the ability for an individual to work through difficult situations by using a combination of group and individualized therapy. Some of the skills imparted in DBT are mindfulness, stress tolerance, personal effectiveness, and establishing a routine of healthy emotional boundaries.

This form of treatment is mainly known for treating individuals with borderline personality disorder, however, it is applied in addiction recovery centers because it can help treat other mental health conditions, such as substance use disorder. Now, it is often applied in addiction recovery centers because it can help curb self-destructive behavior like substance abuse and improve emotional regulation to reduce the risk of succumbing to relapse triggers.

Those whose substance abuse stems in part from issues with emotional regulation or self-destructive impulses can benefit greatly from DBT as part of their treatment plan. This type of therapy is also fantastic for those with past trauma and is highly effective for mood and personality disorders. 


When used in addiction recovery, DBT gets to the core of a person’s substance use disorder while building on their unique strengths and developing healthier coping skills. With the help of a trained therapist, individuals can make adjustments to their lifestyle and begin to work toward lasting sobriety, repairing their relationships, pursuing their life goals and finding what makes them happy.

Not every DBT session will be identical to the next, but a course of treatment typically consists of weekly skill-focused groups and individual therapy. There may also be “homework” assignments in which participants are asked to practice their skills in between sessions or focus on taking specific steps to address the challenges they face in daily life.

While each individual may need a different pace or approach to get the most out of their treatment, there are four stages of DBT you can expect to encounter:

  • Stage 1: At the beginning of treatment, the most serious and life-threatening behaviors are addressed first, such as self-harm, suicidal ideation or substance abuse.
  • Stage 2: Next, treatment will focus on symptoms and issues that impact quality of life. During this stage, past traumas are addressed and individuals will work on building interpersonal effectiveness, emotional regulation and distress tolerance skills.
  • Stage 3: As behavior improves and new coping skills begin to solidify, the next step is learning how to live a healthier life and pursue individual goals. This stage also focuses on issues related to interpersonal relationships and self-esteem.  
  • Stage 4: Finally, the last stage of treatment helps people find purpose, meaning and fulfillment in their lives. The goal is to help each individual develop a greater sense of balance and the capacity to experience joy and freedom.


‘Dialectical’ is a term used to describe a seemingly contradictory process between opposing sides. In DBT, these two opposite forces are acceptance and change, which are brought together to achieve better treatment results. The need for change is recognized within the context of acceptance — DBT acknowledges the often conflicting emotions we experience and helps us process, understand and experience them without getting caught up in them. 

To that end, DBT focuses on improving skills in four key areas: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation and interpersonal effectiveness.



Individuals who utilize DBT will learn how to understand, accept and observe their thoughts and emotions without judgment. It’s a journey of self-discovery that helps people get to the root of their addiction and examine any underlying issues or concerns. It also promotes awareness of how their self-destructive behaviors affect themselves and others.

DBT is particularly beneficial for people who have experienced trauma or who struggle with intense and troubling emotions. It makes it easier to navigate these powerful feelings without becoming overwhelmed by them. DBT also teaches individuals how to accept things as they are and become less vulnerable to negative moods to minimize the distress they cause.


DBT can help individuals adjust their decision-making processes and restore a positive self-image while learning to identify potential relapse triggers. It’s an excellent treatment option for practicing new coping skills and learning to avoid unhealthy or tempting situations. With DBT, individuals also embark on a journey to manage cravings and other challenges that appear during the recovery process.

Additionally, the training in DBT helps people build their tolerance to distress and learn how to handle it. During treatment, individuals will practice dealing with stressful situations and perspectives before they become overwhelming for themselves or others around them. As a result, those with addiction or mental health concerns find new ways to move forward in life that help them stay on the path to recovery. 


One of the most critical elements of DBT is that it is not a temporary solution, but one that helps with both short and long-term situations. It immediately addresses concerning behaviors like substance abuse or self-harm and helps to correct harmful patterns, but it also gives individuals insights into their thoughts, feelings and actions so they can build new skills that will last a lifetime. 

Those struggling with addiction need as many resources and tools as possible to move forward in their recovery and achieve a sober, healthy lifestyle. We’ve found that DBT is one of the best ways to help individuals resolve the apparent contradiction between acceptance and change so they can leave substance abuse behind and discover the things that make them truly happy. 

Over the course of treatment, an individual gets deeper insights into their substance abuse, so they’re better equipped to achieve their current and long-term sobriety goals. At NorthStar Transitions in Boulder, Colorado, we want every individual to better understand the behaviors and negative thought patterns that contribute to addiction so we can begin to move past them. With DBT, we can help people become more resilient to stress, learn new coping skills and balance acceptance with change. Together, we can discover ways to live a happier, healthier and sober lifestyle. If you’d like more information on starting DBT, call us today at (866) 407-2240 — we’d be happy to answer any questions you may have and share our philosophies on healing.

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