How Is DBT Different from CBT?

by Aug 21, 2023

When you’re new to the world of therapy, all of the different diagnoses, treatments, and therapy options can seem a little overwhelming. On top of that, the medical world is filled with acronyms, and the therapy world is no different. How on earth does anyone know where to even start? 

You know you want to start therapy, but you’re not exactly sure where to start. If that’s the case, you’re not alone. Don’t worry; we’re here to help. Let’s start off by learning the differences between DBT and CBT.

What Is CBT?

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a therapy format that can help individuals identify unhelpful negative behaviors or patterns of thought. CBT is one of the most common forms of therapy. There is a large amount of evidence-based research that supports the benefits of CBT and its effectiveness. Cognitive behavioral therapy works to help individuals develop healthier ways of thinking and even behaving to improve their overall mental health and wellness.

What Is DBT?

Dialectical behavioral therapy or DBT is a type of therapy that can help individuals who have a hard time regulating their emotions or those who are showing signs of self-destructive behaviors. DBT incorporates four primary components into the treatment plan: emotional regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and mindfulness. Dialectical behavioral therapy works to help individuals accept their current state and make changes to improve their life.

The Differences Between CBT and DBT

DBT may be a type of cognitive behavioral therapy, but they do have several differences. Let’s dive into some of the main differences between CBT and DBT.


CBT and DBT both work to help clients in the present-day timeframe. Cognitive behavioral therapy explores past experiences that are likely to have impacted your present-day thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Dialectical behavioral therapy’s primary focus is on the present day and managing the current thoughts, feelings, and emotions as well as the relationships in the present day.

Treatment Approach

The main difference between cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy is the treatment approach. CBT focuses on an individual’s thoughts and behaviors. DBT focuses on how you interact with yourself, others, and the world. During CBT, a therapist and the client will work together to come up with an action plan and work towards the goals of the client. In DBT, the therapist will take on more of a leadership role and direct the client.

Conditions for Treatment

While CBT and DBT are based on the same principles, they are used to treat different conditions. Cognitive behavioral therapy is more widely used compared to DBT. CBT is most commonly used for the following mental health conditions:

  • Anxiety
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Substance use

Dialectical behavioral therapy is more commonly used to treat conditions like borderline personality disorder, narcissism, and suicidal ideation.

Next Steps

There are so many different types of therapy options out there. The therapy option that is best suited for you depends on several factors. You have to consider your reasons for wanting to start therapy, any signs or symptoms you may be experiencing, and your overall goals for treatment.

One of the best ways to determine if cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy is right for you is by reaching out to a licensed and trained mental health professional for an initial consultation. A therapist can help you figure out which treatment option is best suited for you and your needs. Reach out to us today to learn more about the best treatment plan for your goals.

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