CBT vs DBT: Understanding the Differences and BenefitsBrowse all therapists
You may have heard of Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT). Both are popular forms of talk therapy that can help you manage symptoms of anxiety, depression, and more. While there are some similarities between the two, there are also some key differences that are important to understand.
CBT is a form of therapy that focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. It's a short-term, goal-oriented approach that can help you learn new coping skills and develop healthier habits. DBT, on the other hand, is a form of therapy that combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness practices. It's often used to treat borderline personality disorder, but can also be helpful for other mental health conditions.
When it comes to choosing between CBT and DBT, there's no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on your individual needs and goals. Some people may benefit more from the structured, goal-oriented approach of CBT, while others may find the mindfulness practices of DBT more helpful. It's important to work with a qualified mental health professional to determine which approach is right for you.
- CBT and DBT are two popular forms of talk therapy that can help manage symptoms of mental health conditions.
- CBT focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors, while DBT combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness practices and radical acceptance.
- The approach that's right for you depends on your individual needs and goals, so it's important to work with a qualified mental health professional to determine which approach is best.
What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that aims to help individuals overcome emotional and behavioral problems by changing their negative thought patterns and beliefs. CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected, and that by changing the way we think, we can change the way we feel and behave.
Principles of CBT
- Collaborative approach: CBT is a collaborative process between the therapist and the client. The therapist works with the client to identify their specific problems and goals, and together they develop a treatment plan.
- Focus on the present: CBT focuses on the present rather than the past or future. The therapist helps the client to identify and change their current thoughts and behaviors that are causing problems.
- Structured sessions: CBT sessions are structured and typically last between 45 and 60 minutes. The therapist and client work together to set an agenda for each session and review progress from the previous session.
- Homework assignments: CBT often involves homework assignments that help the client to practice the skills they have learned in therapy in their daily life.
Techniques in CBT
- Cognitive restructuring: This technique involves identifying and changing negative thought patterns and beliefs that are causing problems. The therapist helps the client to challenge their negative thoughts and replace them with more positive and realistic ones.
- Behavioural activation: This technique involves identifying and changing negative behaviors that are causing problems. The therapist helps the client to develop a plan to increase positive behaviors and decrease negative ones.
- Exposure therapy: This technique is used to treat anxiety disorders and involves gradually exposing the client to the thing or situation that is causing anxiety in a safe and controlled environment.
- Relaxation techniques: These techniques, such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, are used to help individuals manage their anxiety and stress.
- Recognizing automatic thoughts: Once understanding the individual’s core beliefs, the therapist helps the individual to reframe their negative automatic thoughts. For example, an individual with perfectionism may have the automatic thoughts about failure when something is not perfect.
CBT is a highly effective form of therapy that has been shown to be effective in treating a wide range of mental health challenges, including anxiety disorders, depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If you are struggling with emotional or behavioural problems, CBT may be a helpful treatment option for you.
Principles of DBT
Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is a type of CBT that was developed in the late 1980s by Marsha Linehan. It is designed to help individuals who struggle with emotional regulation, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. DBT is based on the principles of mindfulness, acceptance, and the development of coping skills.
One of the primary principles of DBT is the concept of dialectics. Dialectics refers to the idea that two opposing ideas can be true at the same time. In DBT, this means that individuals are encouraged to accept themselves as they are, while also working to change problematic behaviours.
Another principle of DBT is the idea of validation. Validation involves acknowledging an individual's thoughts and feelings as valid, even if they are difficult to understand or accept. This helps individuals feel heard and understood, which can be an important part of the therapeutic process.
Techniques in DBT
DBT uses a variety of techniques to help individuals develop coping skills and emotional regulation. One of the most common techniques used in DBT is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way. This can help individuals become more aware of their thoughts and feelings, which can in turn help them regulate their emotions.
A technique used in DBT is behavioural chain analysis. This involves examining a problematic behaviour and identifying the thoughts and feelings that led up to it. By understanding the chain of events that led to the behaviour, individuals can develop new coping skills to help prevent it from happening in the future.
Another popular part of DBT is radical acceptance - accepting reality as it is, without judgment or resistance. It is a distress tolerance skill that can help individuals reduce suffering caused by difficult situations out of their control. Radical acceptance means accepting information both mentally and emotionally, without judgment. It doesn’t mean that you like or condone something—only that you accept it as a reality. Radical acceptance is most often applied to large life-changing events such as trauma. It is a notoriously difficult topic to teach and to grasp fully, but it is one of the most supportive yet difficult DBT skills.
DBT also uses a variety of skills training modules, including emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. These modules are designed to teach individuals specific skills that can help them manage difficult emotions, improve relationships, and cope with stress.
Overall, DBT is a highly effective therapeutic approach for individuals who struggle with emotional regulation, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. By focusing on mindfulness, acceptance, and the development of coping skills, DBT can help individuals improve their quality of life and achieve their goals.
Comparing CBT and DBT
Both cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) are therapeutic modalities that aim to help individuals overcome mental health challenges and achieve their goals. Both therapies are based on the idea that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours are interconnected and that we can change our thoughts and behaviours to improve our emotional well-being.
Both CBT and DBT are goal-oriented and time-limited therapies, which means that they are designed to help individuals achieve specific goals within a set period of time. Both therapies involve working with a trained therapist who can help you identify negative thought patterns and behaviours and develop new, more positive ones.
While CBT and DBT share many similarities, there are some key differences between the two therapies. Here are some of the main differences:
- Focuses on changing negative thoughts and behaviours
- Typically involves individual therapy sessions
- Can be effective for a wide range of mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD
- Uses a variety of techniques, including cognitive restructuring and exposure therapy
- Focuses on accepting negative thoughts and emotions while also changing negative behaviours
- Typically involves both individual and group therapy sessions
- Often used to treat borderline personality disorder and other conditions that involve intense emotional dysregulation
- Uses techniques such as mindfulness, distress tolerance, and emotion regulation
In summary, while both CBT and DBT are effective therapeutic modalities, they have some key differences in terms of their focus and techniques. What works best for you will depend on your individual needs and goals, so it's important to work with a trained therapist who can help you determine which therapy is right for you.
Effectiveness of CBT and DBT
Success Rate of CBT
CBT has been extensively researched and has been shown to be effective in treating a variety of mental health disorders. According to a meta-analysis of 269 studies, CBT has an overall success rate of 50-60% in treating depression, anxiety, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) . The success rate of CBT for specific disorders is as follows:
- Depression: 50-60%
- Anxiety: 50-60%
- PTSD: 50-60%
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): 50-70%
- Panic Disorder: 70-80%
- Social Anxiety Disorder: 50-60%
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): 50-60%
CBT is often used as the first line of treatment for many mental health disorders due to its effectiveness and efficiency.
Success Rate of DBT
DBT is a form of CBT that was developed specifically for treating individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). However, it has also been shown to be effective in treating other mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse . According to a meta-analysis of 11 studies, DBT has an overall success rate of 50-60% in treating BPD . The success rate of DBT for specific disorders is as follows:
- Borderline Personality Disorder: 50-60%
- Depression: 50-60%
- Anxiety: 50-60%
- Substance Abuse: 50-60%
DBT is a long-term therapy that usually lasts for a year or more. It focuses on teaching individuals skills to manage their emotions and behaviours. DBT is a comprehensive approach that includes individual therapy, group therapy, skills training, and phone coaching.
In conclusion, both CBT and DBT are effective therapeutic modalities for treating mental health disorders. The success rates of CBT and DBT are similar, with both having an overall success rate of 50-60%. The choice between CBT and DBT depends on the individual's specific needs and the severity of their mental health disorder.
 Hofmann, S. G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I. J. J., Sawyer, A. T., & Fang, A. (2012). The efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy: A review of meta-analyses. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 36(5), 427–440. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-012-9476-1
 Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. Guilford Press.
 Kliem, S., Kröger, C., Kosfelder, J., & Schweiger, U. (2010). Dialectical Behavior Therapy for borderline personality disorder: A meta-analysis using mixed-effects modeling. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(6), 936–951. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0021015
Both CBT and DBT are effective psychotherapeutic approaches that can help individuals with various mental health challenges. When deciding between CBT and DBT, it is important to consider your specific needs and goals. If you are looking for a more structured and focused approach to changing negative thought patterns and behaviours, CBT may be the best option for you. On the other hand, if you struggle with intense emotions and have difficulty regulating them, DBT may be a better fit.
It is important to note that both therapies require active participation and commitment from the individual undergoing treatment. While therapy can be challenging, the benefits of improved mental health and well-being are worth the effort.
Ultimately, the decision between CBT and DBT should be made in consultation with a mental health professional who can help you determine the best course of treatment based on your individual needs and circumstances.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the primary differences between CBT and DBT?
CBT and DBT are both forms of talk therapy that are used to treat a variety of mental health conditions. However, there are some key differences between the two approaches. CBT focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviours, while DBT emphasizes mindfulness, acceptance, and interpersonal skills. DBT also includes a specific focus on emotion regulation, which is not typically included in CBT.
Which is more effective for Borderline Personality Disorder: CBT or DBT?
DBT was specifically developed to treat Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), and research has shown it to be effective for this condition. However, some studies have also shown that CBT can be helpful for individuals with BPD, particularly when it is combined with other forms of treatment.
Can DBT and CBT be used together?
Yes, DBT and CBT can be used together, and some therapists may use elements of both approaches in their treatment plans. However, it is important to work with a therapist who has experience in both approaches and can tailor their treatment plan to your specific needs.
What are the criticisms of DBT?
Some critics have argued that the focus on acceptance and mindfulness can lead to a lack of emphasis on changing negative behaviours, while others have suggested that the approach can be overly complex and difficult to implement.
Is CBT or DBT better for treating eating disorders?
Both CBT and DBT have been shown to be effective for treating eating disorders, although DBT may be particularly helpful for individuals with binge eating disorder. However, the best approach will depend on the individual and their specific needs, and it is important to work with a therapist who has experience in treating eating disorders.