skip to main content
Formerly St. Louis Center for Family Development

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a proven treatment method for people who experience and struggle to cope with intense emotions, such as mood swings, shame, sadness, anger and anxiety. As a result, these feelings can lead people to engage in behaviors that harm themselves, damage relationships and jeopardize goals. These behaviors, include:

  • Self-harm
  • Substance abuse
  • Gambling
  • Eating disorders
  • Risky sexual behavior
  • Suicide ideation

If you are reading this, it is likely that you, or someone you love, may be struggling with one or more of these behaviors. If so, there is hope. Studies of DBT Therapy show that it works and can help people gain back control of their emotions and their life.

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

In the 1980s, psychologist Marsha M. Linehan and her team at the University of Washington in Seattle vowed to find a solution to the pain and suffering they witnessed in individuals with intense emotions, specifically those diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). After extensive and rigorous research that led to important outcomes for her clients, Dr. Linehan developed the modified cognitive-behavior therapy now called DBT.

DBT is a program designed to help people discover and achieve meaning in life. With the support of a certified mental health professional, DBT starts with the client setting goals tailored to their own personal values, ambitions and unique situation in life. Next, the client and therapist work together to identify target behaviors that interfere with achieving those life goals. Through DBT, participants learn skills to reduce behaviors causing problems and teaches skills to help clients build a life that feels worthwhile.

In short, DBT can teach people to become more aware of their emotions, deal effectively with painful situations in alternative ways and improve relationships.

Who can benefit from DBT Therapy?

DBT has everyday applications that could be useful for everyone, but the treatment model is a best fit for people with a history of self-harm, suicide ideation, extreme emotion dysregulation and/or hospitalizations.

Individuals who experience these behaviors and receive DBT are typically diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). However, since first being developed, it has been modified as a treatment for other complex disorders, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, anxiety, substance dependencies, depression and severe mood disorders. Because the treatment is comprehensive, it gives therapists the opportunity to address a range of difficulties a person may experience, including dual diagnoses.

How does DBT work?

The “D” in DBT stands for dialectical, which is the coming together of opposites. DBT uses this concept by integrating change and acceptance. Although these might seem contradictory, the combination asks both client and therapist to find the balance between accepting reality as it is and maintaining a strong commitment to change. This is reflected in the two types of strategies taught in DBT:

Change Strategies: These strategies focus on learning to change one’s own emotional experiences or environmental situations that amplify emotional experiences. This includes problem-solving, skills training, developing more effective thinking, behavioral activation and exposure therapy.

Acceptance Strategies: Acceptance strategies teach new ways of responding that work paradoxically. Through acceptance of events, situations, emotions and/or thoughts, a new relationship can be built with our experiences. It is through these new relationships that change paradoxically occurs.

To put it simply: it is only through acceptance that change may arise. DBT uses this as the foundation to help participants develop four key areas of life skills:

  • Distress tolerance: coping skills to better tolerate emotional pain and accept oneself, one’s past and one’s current life
  • Emotion regulation: approaches to manage and change intense emotions
  • Mindfulness: practices to focus attention on thoughts, emotions and other people — for what they are, without getting caught up in judgments, assumptions or interpretations
  • Interpersonal effectiveness: techniques to communicate with others

What to Expect

DBT is a comprehensive treatment model that is proven effective for people struggling with emotional intensity. But to experience results, participants must be ready to make a commitment to the program.

While each person’s treatment plan is different, DBT on average lasts at least one year. Participants engage in 1-hour individual sessions with their therapist each week, in addition to attending weekly group skills sessions with peers who are experiencing similar life struggles. DBT clients at Sparlin Mental Health (Sparlin) also have access to 24/7 phone coaching. 

DBT Therapy in St. Louis

At Sparlin Mental Health (Sparlin), we believe it is critical to provide DBT via a compassionate treatment relationship that builds on a client’s inherent strengths, understands the individual’s emotional sensitivity and offers powerful and concrete methods for mental health management.

Serving the St. Louis region since 2009, we established the first post-graduate training fellowship in the St. Louis area. Several of our clinicians are DBT-Linehan Board Certified and are regularly re-trained in treatment delivery. Additionally, our consultation team meets once a week to ensure clients receive the best treatment by helping the DBT therapists stay focused and motivated – even when times get difficult.

Our DBT therapists work to provide treatment in a way that is warm and validating, while at the same time offering enough challenge and guidance to stimulate behavioral change and a reduction in harmful behaviors. Always, the ultimate goal is to instill hope and help clients create a life worth living.

Contact our office today to learn more about why Sparlin is a leader of DBT Therapy in St. Louis.