What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT?

A lot of people don’t understand how this can work in recovery. In fact, it is a very important component for people who are in recovery and trying to get sober. It has been shown to help in the recovery process. What does that mean for you? It means you can get sober and stay sober with this tool in your hands. What this process does is allows people to unpack what’s going on cognitively (thinking) and emotionally (feeling).
We all know that when we come to treatment, its often a very hard and confusing process to figure out what’s wrong and why we do what we do. By using DBT skills, clients start the process of finding out how thoughts and feelings affect their behaviors and allows our clients to make better choices in how they interact with their world.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy consists of four main groups:

  • Mindfulness
  • Emotion Regulation
  • Distress Tolerance
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness
Each part of the process is broken down into separate modules at LifeSync Malibu. We spend time individually and in group sessions with each client to make sure that they understand the salient features of each component and allow them to practice the application of these components in real-world scenarios. Our four-week program allows every client to go into a detailed study on how to employ and practice these four principles. The tools that clients learn when they get treatment at LifeSync Malibu Healing Center, allow the client space and time to heal so they can stay sober.


Today everybody is talking about mindfulness. It is very popular and a lot of people use this practice as a part of their personal meditation. In treatment, a lot of times clients behavior is very instinctual: “I am going to use a substance” or, “I am going to get this” or, “I am doing that”. The clients themselves are often not aware of what is driving the behavior from a physical, emotional, or mental standpoint. Moreover, they are often surprised to find out why they are acting or behaving in certain ways.  When we teach mindfulness at LifeSync Malibu, we utilize mindfulness to slow people down and allow them the space to become aware of what is going on inside each individual’s mind and as a result in give them space to make a decision on what kind of reaction or action the client will take in any given situation. For example, a client gets into an argument with a spouse or family member. Their feelings are hurt. They become angry. Then before they know it, they become fixated on drinking or using drugs.  In many cases, the awareness of the emotional milieu is completely hidden, and the client simply remembers having a bad interaction with a close personal relationship and immediately wanting to use. When mindfulness techniques are employed in situations such as these, we work closely with the client ad allow them to unpack what just happened. In this example, the client had a bad interaction with a close personal relationship. As a result, they became angry, they became fearful, they became sad, they began to feel shame, guilt and emotional pain. None of these emotions were very comfortable and, in the past, the client would use substances in order to numb the feelings or get through them. In our program we allow each client to experience the space between the interaction and the emotion. This allows the individual to disarticulate the need to use substances to circumvent or avoid painful or distressing emotions or thoughts. It is the beginning of empowerment and clients respond well to this when they feel empowered to make a change and to not have to stick with the same old routine of trigger and relapse, trigger and relapse, trigger and relapse.

Emotion regulation

This is the second component of the dialectical behavioral therapy that we employ at LifeSync Malibu Healing Center. Emotion regulation is simply what it states it is: learning how to regulate emotions. Life unfortunately does not come with an instruction book but if it did, having a regulator on the emotion button would be top of my list for helping people get through life. It is pretty clear many people relapse over uncontrollable or severe emotions. At LifeSync Malibu Healing Center clients start the process of championing their emotional life. The opportunity with dialectical behavioral therapy is to help regulate emotions and not cause out-of-control behavior based on emotions. Have you ever yelled at someone who just said hello? Or had a similar out of proportion emotional response to a social interaction? We all have. Whether you have three days, 30 days, three years, or 30 years sober, emotion regulation is a critical and important component of recovery and can help all people in their daily walks of life. Instead of being at the mercy of one’s emotions, championing emotions leads to better sobriety and happier living.

Distress Tolerance

This is the third component of dialectical behavioral therapy. Distress tolerance is very, very helpful in addressing crises. Whether this is an emotional crisis, physical crisis, or some other crisis, distress tolerance is a way to safely navigate through a traumatic or disturbing event and move forward in a healthy and sane way. In essence, this technique allows people to tolerate short-term or long-term pain and utilizes the other components of the dialectic behavioral therapeutic module to get through tough times.

Interpersonal skills

The fourth and final component of the dialectical behavioral therapy program at LifeSync Malibu Healing Center is one of the most critical components. Relationships abound everywhere, and they are an integral part of our recovery. However, despite them being such a big part of life, many relationships are far from satisfactory.   Terms to describe these relationships are, ”Dysfunctional relationships “,  “unhealthy relationships “, “unfulfilling relationships “, “unsatisfactory relationships”, “bad relationships “, you could add the list extensively. We are a people who have difficulty relating to one another. Despite the best vocabulary and understanding of the human language, people have problems getting along with one another. The Interpersonal Skills model teaches practical coping skills that allow people to form rich and meaningful relationships with others in the recovery. It also works in releasing tension and removing triggers for potential relapses.
As stated above in the mindfulness paragraph, the difficult emotional interaction that our client was experiencing was significantly improved by the utilization of these techniques and now, instead of having a family member who is hostile and can negatively affect the persons recovery, this family member is a big support for them and helps keep this client in recovery. In short, LifeSync Malibu Healing Center utilizes dialectical behavioral therapy in order to help our clients stay sober and have better recovery. By using these techniques, and we have found that many of our clients feel much more comfortable in social settings and are much more stable overall.  It is an effective and meaningful tool in the recovery process.