Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are both effective therapeutic modalities. What works for you may depend on the challenges you are facing.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are two different modalities of therapy that can be helpful if you’re looking for a therapist. The type of therapy that is right for you depends on what you want to work on with your therapist.

CBT focuses on the link between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and seeks to help you replace unhelpful patterns of thinking and behavior with more helpful ones. CBT can be very structured and often involves work outside of therapy sessions.

DBT has four primary areas of focus, and although it’s a type of cognitive behavioral therapy, it’s much different in how it’s used. DBT helps you learn how to regulate emotions, stay in the present moment, deal with crises, and be effective in your relationships.

CBT and DBT differ in what you learn and how the treatment is delivered. Neither therapy is considered better than the other. It simply comes down to your preferences and individual needs.

There are many differences between CBT and CBT. The main differences are in the approach to treatment, as CBT focuses on your thinking patterns and behavior and DBT focuses on how you interact with the world, yourself, and others.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often known as the gold standard of psychotherapy treatment because a large amount of evidence-based research demonstrates its effectiveness. If you start CBT, you will likely challenge your unhelpful thoughts and behaviors and work to identify healthier patterns of thinking and behaving that improve your overall well-being.

Dialectal behavior therapy (DBT) is based on CBT principles but incorporates principles of mindfulness practice. Traditional outpatient DBT includes individual therapy, DBT skills groups, and phone coaching. In DBT, you can use phone coaching to reach a therapist who coaches you to use DBT-based skills during a crisis.

DBT has four primary skill components:

DBT was first used to treat individuals with borderline personality disorder and was developed in the early 1990s by Marsha Linehan. Since then, it has been used to treat various other mental health disorders.

DBT comes from the philosophy of dialectics which means integrating opposing views. In DBT, dialectics work by helping you accept things as they are and making changes for the better when necessary.

If you’re looking for a therapist, you may wonder whether CBT or DBT is better for you. Each modality may be more effective depending on the potential issue you’re facing. However, in general, CBT is more widely used.

For example, a research literature review indicates that CBT has shown efficacy in treating various physical and mental health conditions such as:

The authors state that these conditions have improved through the CBT modality in the short term.

DBT is often used to treat borderline personality disorder and parasuicidal behaviors. In DBT treatment, there is often a focus on emotional dysregulation and learning skills for more adaptive ways of dealing with emotions. DBT treatment can help with mental health disorders that have a component of emotional dysregulation.

If you are trying to decide between the two, CBT may be a better option if you want to work on how your patterns of thinking may be causing challenges in your life and what you can do to overcome those challenges.

On the other hand, if you’re facing a lot of crises, dealing with suicidal thoughts, or need help regulating emotions, DBT may be a better option.

Is CBT or DBT better for treating depression?

According to a 2020 literature review that included 115 studies on CBT for depression, there is a large evidence base to suggest that CBT is effective for mild to moderate depressive episodes. The authors also note that CBT is more effective when paired with medication for the treatment of depression.

Some research suggests that DBT is also effective for treating depression. For example, a 2020 research study that examined the effectiveness of DBT treatment compared to a control group of adolescents found that DBT significantly reduced depressive symptoms among adolescents in an inpatient unit.

While both CBT and DBT can be effective for treating depression, the evidence behind CBT in treating depression is more exhaustive. CBT, therefore, may be the better option for treating depression.

Is CBT or DBT better for treating anxiety?

A vast array of literature supports CBT as a standard treatment for anxiety disorders. A 2019 literature review found that 12 months after the completion of treatment, individuals who received CBT treatment reported lower anxiety symptoms when they were compared to a control group.

Additionally, a 2021 study of 1,589 participants examined the effects of CBT on anxiety symptoms. The results indicated a significant decrease in symptoms of depression and anxiety among participants experiencing moderate to severe anxiety.

Some research suggests that DBT can also help alleviate anxiety symptoms. A 2016 study of 173 participants found that DBT skills training helped decrease anxiety symptoms in patients at a psychiatric hospital.

Much like depression, while both modalities can help treat depression and anxiety, the vast body of research supporting CBT for alleviating anxiety symptoms is greater.

CBT and DBT are evidence-based psychological treatments that can help you cope with various mental health challenges. CBT works on changing unhelpful thoughts and behaviors.

DBT uses a lot of skills-based training including mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotional regulation, and distress tolerance, to help improve well-being.

If you’re dealing with depression and anxiety, CBT may be the best option for treatment, as it has been shown through numerous studies that it helps treat these conditions.

However, if you have received a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, deal with self-harm, or have difficulty regulating your emotions, DBT may be a more beneficial treatment modality for you.

To learn more about therapy and how it can support you, you can check out Psych Central’s Understanding Therapy resource.

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