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How Is CBT Different Than DBT?

CBT is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It is a popular and effective form of short-term talk therapy for a wide range of mental health issues and disorders. The focus during CBT treatment is on your distorted thought patterns. Changing them can go a long way in changing what emotions you feel and what behaviors you choose.

DBT is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. It’s also a form of talk therapy that’s popular and effective for many problems — but not quite as short-term as CBT. DBT will focus on distorted thinking patterns but the next steps are different. Rather than removing such thoughts, the goal is to develop balance around them.

Is CBT Sometimes Used as a Catch-All Phrase?

Yes, there are a few different types of CBT and that includes DBT. Thus, when differentiating between them, it’s crucial to know in advance that some people use the acronym CBT to describe any type of talk therapy that, for example, takes place over a limited period of time and emphasizes cognition over emotions. Therefore, for the purposes of this discussion, we’re using the traditional definition of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as it compares to Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.

So, How Is CBT Different Than DBT?

CBT and DBT share these philosophies and approaches:

  • Identifying and exploring negative thoughts and behaviors
  • Increasing one’s self-awareness in daily life
  • Developing productive new behaviors and patterns

But they have some core differences when it comes to attaining such goals, e.g.

  • Through practice, CBT guides you to create positive change by recognizing the cycle of thought-emotion-action. By addressing a distorted thought, you can reimagine what emotions and actions are possible. The guiding principle, you might say, is logic.
  • DBT introduces more of an acceptance mindset. You learn that negative moments are inevitable. Hence, learning how to accept and tolerate them reduces the impact of the emotions created and leaves room for healthier behaviors in response. With DBT, the guiding principle is mindfulness.

Treating Particular Illnesses

CBT is particularly effective in the treatment of:

  • Depression
  • Phobias
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep issues
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

DBT was initially designed to treat those with Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s now also been deemed effective for:

  • Sexual trauma
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Chronic thoughts of suicide

teen girl staring at herself in a mirror smilingTreatment Methods and Goals

As mentioned above, CBT treatments are usually shorter than DBT. Also, CBT does not automatically include a group therapy component while DBT does. In group therapy, DBT patients work on skills training.


CBT is the more goal-oriented approach of the two. Put simply, the goals relate to:

  • Guiding clients to learn how to recognize thought distortions and the behavior they provoke
  • Develop the tools needed to adjust to the distortions that kick off the negative cycle

In DBT, the goals are more fluid but share some similarities with CBT goals, e.g.

  • Acceptance
  • Emotional regulation
  • Controlling destructive behavior

Is CBT or DBT Right For You?

As you can probably discern from all of the above, it’s now about one treatment being “better” than the other. Each situation, each client, and each therapist brings with them unique factors. You will need to identify elements like:

  • Symptoms
  • Treatment history
  • Goals
  • Personal circumstances like scheduling and time constraints

The best first step is to reach out and speak with a mental health professional. This will be the ideal setting to learn more about both Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. You can share about yourself and ask relevant questions about the therapist’s approach and philosophy. From there, you can work together to choose the next steps on your path to healing and recovery. Let’s connect and talk soon!

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