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Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) exercises and techniques

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Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) exercises and techniques

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Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is a version of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). DBT is used for those who have more extreme emotional responses than average and/or have impulsive tendencies, and therefore have difficulties within various interpersonal relationships. DBT is about moving away from judgements and from all-or-nothing thinking into an understanding that two truths may exist at once — “this is hard, and I can do it.” 

Because DBT patients often experience difficulties in social settings, DBT typically involves one-on-one therapy and group therapy.  

Common techniques and exercises used during DBT include:

Mindfulness: A simple mindfulness technique is focused breathing—inhaling and exhaling and watching your belly rise and fall. For patients in DBT, this tool is used to stay in the present moment and tune into what’s really going on around you without judgement of yourself or anyone else. This helps you stay calm, practice self-compassion, and avoid impulsive coping behaviours.

Emotion regulation: Identifying and naming our emotions can be empowering. This technique helps DBT patients acknowledge and know their emotions, again without judgement. Naming your emotions puts you in control over them. Eventually, you learn how your emotions lead you to certain behaviours, and you’ll learn how to choose different coping tools in the future. 

Stress or distress tolerance: Remembering that DBT is about opposing truths, this technique helps patients accept harsh realities they cannot change (e.g. the death of a loved one) while learning to manage their stress associated with it. It’s about acceptance and remaining in control so you don’t get stuck in problematic thought or behaviour patterns. This technique teaches in-the-moment coping mechanisms, even as simple as putting your body in charge by going for a walk.

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