By Martha McLaughlin
You’ve made the decision to see someone about the mental health issue that’s become part of your life. Great. Now what? How do you decide what treatment is best? There are many types of counseling, but two of the most common are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). They’re both effective, and similar in many ways, but different enough that one may be a better fit for you depending on your personal needs and preferences.
DBT is a specific form of CBT, so the approaches don’t oppose each other, but overlap. CBT came first, and DBT developed as a modification designed for a specific patient group. Today, both are used successfully for a wide range of issues.
What Do CBT and DBT Involve?
As the name implies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) ties together cognition, or thoughts, with specific behaviors. The idea is that feelings and behaviors can be changed by identifying the thoughts and beliefs that prompt them. In CBT, people learn to pull their thoughts into full consciousness and evaluate them for truth and helpfulness.
Two people often respond to the same situation in different ways, because it’s not the situation itself that causes a response, but the perception of it and its meanings. In CBT, you’ll learn to reframe distressing situations by thinking about them differently. This can involve brainstorming alternative ways of looking at the situation and ways you might react to it.
DBT also involves examining and reframing unhelpful thoughts. In addition to the focus on modifying beliefs and behaviors, however, there is also an acknowledgement that we act the way we do for legitimate reasons. Dialectics involves balancing and harmonizing forces that seem to be opposites, and in DBT, those forces are change and acceptance.
Counseling isn’t an exact science. It’s good to have options, so if one approach doesn’t feel like the perfect fit for you, you can try another therapy. No matter if you’re using CBT, DBT or another type of treatment, the relationship between counselors and their patients, sometimes called the therapeutic alliance, is a vital part of the equation.3 Some personalities simply mesh more naturally than others, and it’s OK to switch counselors if the relationship just doesn’t click. The important thing is to value yourself enough to take action and get the help you need.
1 Martin, Ben. “In-Depth: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.” Psych Central, Accessed February 26, 2018.
2 Grohol, John. “What’s the Difference Between CBT and DBT?” Psych Central, Accessed February 26, 2018.
3 Ardito, Rita, and Daniela Rabellino. “Therapeutic alliance and outcome of psychotherapy: historical excursus, measurements, and prospects for research.” Frontiers in Psychology, October 18, 2011.Share