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If you’ve been thinking about starting therapy, you may have come across the terms “CBT” and “DBT” in your research. Though they may sound similar, there are many important differences between these two kinds of psychotherapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) are two of the most common treatment modalities used by clinicians to treat mental illnesses, improve your thoughts and behaviors and equip you with the skills needed to handle the various challenges in your life.

Because these two forms of therapy work in very different ways, it’s important to understand the key differences between them so that you can choose the one that’s right for you. Here at Flourish Psychology, we want to get you matched with the clinician who best meets your needs. After a free consultation, you’ll begin seeing your therapist, who will determine the best type of therapy based on your unique needs.

Let’s explore some of the differences between these two kinds of talk therapy.

What is CBT?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a form of talk therapy that’s considered to be a fast and reliable way of addressing negative thought patterns caused by cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are habitual ways of thinking that are inaccurate and usually negative. It’s an exaggerated thought pattern that is not based in fact, causing you to view things a lot more negatively than they really are. For example, you may believe that an unanswered text message means that your friend is upset with you when in reality, they misplaced their phone. CBT teaches you the skills needed to slow down, identify cognitive distortions and challenge them. This can lead to a more positive outlook on life.

CBT teaches you how your thoughts, feelings and behaviors are all linked to each other. By changing your thoughts, CBT also allows you to change your behavior and develop more positive habits and ways of living. CBT is a structured, short-term and goal-oriented form of therapy, used to address a specific challenge or issue in your life.

What is DBT?

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy was developed as a form of talk therapy to help people cope with extreme, overwhelming or unstable emotions. With this form of therapy, the emphasis is on emotional regulation. DBT is actually a modified form of CBT that is more focused on coping with stress, anger and difficult relationships with other people. DBT was originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD), but is now commonly used to treat other mental health conditions or to help people who have difficulty in regulating their emotions. DBT is excellent for curbing self-destructive behavior and is particularly effective in treating substance abuse disorders.  

Differences Between CBT and DBT

  1. They’re Used to Treat Different Concerns

A key difference between CBT and DBT is that they’re used to treat different mental health concerns. DBT was developed to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD), but has proven to be effective in treating patients who have difficulty managing their emotions, such as persons with anger management concerns. On the other hand, CBT is more focused on challenging negative thought patterns and cognitive distortions. CBT helps you to change unwanted behaviors by first managing your thoughts. CBT is usually used to treat a specific concern in a relatively short period of time

2. They Equip You with Different Skills

Both CBT and DBT equip you with important skills that stick with you long after you’ve completed your treatment. With CBT, it’s all about teaching you how to identify and challenge cognitive distortions and reframe your thoughts. One of the most common cognitive distortions is “all or nothing thinking” or “black and white thinking.” This is when your brain sees things in two extremes and fails to acknowledge all the possibilities in between. With all-or-nothing-thinking, things are either perfect or a complete failure. CBT teaches you to recognize that things are never black and white.

DBT skills focus on distress tolerance and teaching you to regulate your emotions during difficult times. When you are able to recognize your emotional triggers, you can prepare yourself to react more rationally in times of distress.

3. They Have Different Treatment Times

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a short-term, goal-oriented form of talk therapy. Patients begin their CBT journey with a specific concern or goal in mind. CBT lasts a few weeks and is proven to be effective in this relatively short time period. DBT is a longer-term form of therapy that is more generalized in nature. DBT can continue for as long as the patient wishes to continue

4. They Take Different Approaches to Relationships

CBT is more focused on your relationship with yourself and the way your own thoughts impact your emotions and actions. With DBT, the focus is on how external triggers impact your emotions and behaviors. CBT is more of an “inside job” because it teaches you to pay attention to your thoughts, identify negative thought patterns and change them into more positive ways of thinking. DBT, on the other hand, helps you to respond more rationally to the challenges that arise in your daily life based on your environment or the relationships with the people around you.

CBT OR DBT – Which Is Right For You?

By understanding the differences between CBT and DBT, you’re better able to determine which type of therapy would be most beneficial for you. Here at Flourish Psychology, our clinicians are trained in both forms of therapy and stand ready to help you achieve your goals. When you schedule a free consult, you’ll share your main concerns challenges and goals so we can get you matched with a therapist who best meets your needs. After your initial sessions with your therapist, they’ll be able to determine which form of therapy is right for you. Some patients have even found it beneficial to learn skills from both treatment modalities to help address multiple challenges in their lives.

To learn more about CBT or DBT, or to schedule a free consult, contact us today.

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