Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs. Dialectical Behavior Therapy: CBT and DBT are two forms of psychotherapy (“talk therapy”).  In both, you work with a mental health professional to learn more about the challenges you experience and learn skills to help you manage those challenges on your own.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT teaches you how your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors influence each other.  For example, if you fear that people don’t like you (thought), you might avoid social situations (behavior), and end up feeling lonely (feeling).  CBT teaches you how to use these relationships to your advantage.  A positive change in one factor (thought/behavior) can lead to positive changes in all factors.  Research has shown CBT to be an affective approach for many different mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

CBT is structured, short term, goal-oriented, and focused on the present.  The first step is education around the particular mental illness or challenge and how it affects you.  Next, you’ll learn and practice skills and strategies like problem solving or realistic thinking to help you make changes in your thoughts, feelings, and actions.  You will learn how to use your new skills to deal with problems in the future.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT is based on CBT, with greater focus on emotional and social aspects.  DBT was developed to help people cope with extreme or unstable emotions and harmful behaviors.  DBT is an evidence-based approach to help people regulate emotions.  It originated as a treatment for borderline personality disorder, and research shows it may help with many mental health illnesses or concerns, particularly self harm.

DBT teaches you that your experiences are real, and shows you how to accept who you are, regardless of challenges or difficult experiences.  Relationships are also very important in DBT– including that between you and your practitioner.  You may have frequent check ins to talk about any successes or problems.  Treatment may include a mix of one-on-one and group sessions.  In addition to CBT skills, you will learn skills around managing emotions, building relationships, coping with problems or distress, radical acceptance, and mindfulness.

As with many forms of psychotherapy, it takes time and effort to enjoy the benefits of DBT and CBT skills.  But once people master skills with support from their CBT or DBT therapist, they often find their new skills and strategies become second nature- they are tools that last a lifetime!  Check out this infographic for an overview of the differences between CBT and DBT:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs. Dialectical Behavior Therapy – Difference #1: Time Frame

CBT is a short term, goal-oriented therapy.  DBT is typically a much more long term process.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs. Dialectical Behavior Therapy – Difference #2: Definition

CBT: An action-oriented form of psychosocial therapy that assumes that maladaptive, or faulty thinking patterns cause negative behavior and emotions.

DBT: A specific type of CBT originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder and chronically suicidal individuals.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs. Dialectical Behavior Therapy – Difference #3: Conditions

CBT: Depressionanxiety disorderseating disorders, and substance abuse are just some of the many conditions that may benefit from CBT.

DBT: Mainly targets people with severe psychological issues such as suicidal or self harm motives and multiple complex issues in their life (abusive or narcissistic relationships).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs. Dialectical Behavior Therapy – Difference #4: Treatment

CBT: Identify, analyze, and reorganize unhealthy and negative thoughts in people.

DBT: Weekly psychotherapy sessions, along with a group session which trains on positive interpersonal relationships, stress management, acceptance, and proper control of emotions.