How does DBT differ from CBT?

How does DBT differ from CBT? 2019-04-06T02:10:17+00:00

Both psychology students and those looking for help ask the question, “how does DBT differ from CBT?” Though this question appears to the general public to be esoteric, it is a well-known subject for psychological professionals. It is safe to point out that the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approach came first with the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) built on the foundations of the former discipline to engage certain conditions.

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During the 1960s Aaron T. Beck. A psychiatrist with the University of Pennsylvania studied the existing psychological concepts surrounding depression in individuals hoping to seal those concepts into the mantra of psychological thought. His findings in repeated studies proved that the existing concepts of mental disorder due to physicality were in error. His studies led to a new wave of thought in the world of psychological thought and a new treatment called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. CBT has led the fight against anxiety and depression since those early studies. In CBT the patient examines the inner workings of their psychosis to discover rational reasons for their condition. Once exposed, the source of the psychological disorder is dealt with through reasoned response mechanisms that differ from patient to patient.


During the 1970s and 1980s, psychologists, equipped with the new mantra of CBT struggled with patients who repeatedly attempted self-mutilation or even suicide. Dealing with borderline personality disorder patient became ineffective using CBT. As pointed out in, DBT rose from the foundation of CBT to deal with the deeper issues of people diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder—the designation of those who feel socially inadequate equating themselves as unworthy of existence. The theory proposes that some people react emotionally to certain social pressures with intense and extreme emotional trauma, especially when dealing with romantic or friendship relationships established for support against the traumas of the world. Utilizing the core principles of CBT psychologist Marsha M. Linehan developed a system for emotional support for these patients that have proven effective to this day.

The Difference

The difference in approach and purpose of the two disciplines veer. While CBT uses rationalization to get at the core of the issue causing anxiety or depression, DBT approaches the emotions causing the deeper issues found in those who have a borderline personality disorder. A psychologist utilizing CBT to work with a patient will approach the problem in a one-on-one scenario. The program demands the existence of trust between the patient and the psychiatrist. A closed room where the disappointments and insults of life that are affecting the patient provides a physical sense of the confidentiality that exists between the two. With a DBT approach, the patient and psychiatrist will utilize the closed room approach combined with group meetings for group discussion and mutual support while exploring the emotional responses to certain stimuli. Through exposure to a group, the patient discovers that they are not alone in the world. By patients discussing mutual problems, they work out solutions from the experiences of others.

The Effect

Armed with the two disciplines, psychiatrists identify the central issue and deal with it in different ways for patients. Though the question of what is the difference between CBT and DBT may be an esoteric query to the lay-person, to a psychiatrist it is an opportunity to treat levels of depression and anxiety in effective ways.