Parents Want to Know: What’s the Difference Between CBT and DBT?

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As a parent, being the best version of yourself isn’t possible all of the time. And that’s okay. But even amidst the hustle and bustle of life and its never-ending stressors, it’s still important to take care of yourself and your mental health.

If you’re struggling with overwhelming emotions or a big life change, it may be a good time to consider behavior therapy. As the world continues to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic, many therapists have transitioned to teletherapy, which makes it easier to receive care from the comfort of your own home.

Taking care of your mental health not only benefits you, but it helps strengthen your relationships. It helps show your kids that valuing mental health is essential to wellbeing, and shows them that it’s okay to ask for help.

Behavior Therapy works.

Why Therapy?

For many people, psychotherapy is a healthy outlet to manage emotions, cope with symptoms of a mental health condition, talk through relationship and life issues, and/or work on self-improvement. Therapy is for everyone, regardless of the presence of mental illness or a huge life change. It can be extremely beneficial as a parent to share your thoughts and feelings in a judgment-free zone and work on healthy techniques and strategies to enhance your life.

Though there are many benefits to therapy, barriers to care like high cost, inconvenient location, lack of cultural competency, lack of time, or lack of understanding can prevent many people from finding a therapist that works for them. It can also be daunting to explore therapy options that are best for you, especially if you’ve never tried therapy before.

There are many approaches to psychotherapy, and two common types– cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)– are often used to treat a variety of mental health conditions. Today we’ll explore both types of therapy as well as their similarities and differences, to better prepare you for your next steps in finding a treatment plan that best fits you.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a behavioral treatment that is an umbrella term for a group of similar talk therapies that helps patients problem-solve and find the connection between their thoughts, feelings and beliefs, and their behaviors. At the core, CBT centers the idea that your thoughts directly influence your feelings and behaviors.

This type of therapy has a structured setting and emphasizes reaching short-term goals. In a therapy session, a CBT therapist may offer different techniques such as journaling, challenging beliefs, and a variety of social, physical and thinking exercises. These tools are used to help the patient become more aware of their harmful thinking patterns and behaviors. It’s common for homework to be assigned in CBT to be completed outside of the therapy session. This helps enforce the positive beliefs, coping skills, and behavior changes learned in therapy.

Parents may want to seek out a CBT therapist if they are experiencing a mental illness, including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, phobias, schizophrenia, and eating disorders. By replacing your negative thinking patterns with healthier, more positive ones, this effective therapy works to change your behaviors and beliefs. How would this impact your next Zoom call? How about when your kid says they are no longer hungry after you spent the last 30 minutes making a new dish just for them?

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, is actually a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. It was originally designed to treat chronic suicidal thoughts in patients with Borderline Personality Disorder, but is now used to treat a variety of mental illnesses like eating disorders, addictions, depression, self-harm, and PTSD, that are usually chronic or severe in nature. DBT was created as a way for patients to cope with severe or unstable emotions and dangerous or harmful behaviors. The dialectical part of its name is in reference to the idea that opposite concepts can be true at the same time.

In a DBT session, patients learn four main skills: emotion regulation, mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance. DBT is usually composed of a combination of individual therapy, a skills training group, and phone coaching with your therapist. The skills group helps reinforce what you’ve learned in therapy, while phone coaching allows for more immediate access to your therapist when you need support.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy focuses on the acceptance of uncomfortable feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. By developing healthy coping strategies, a DBT therapist can help you find a balance of both acceptance and change.

Similarities between CBT and DBT

Since DBT is a type of CBT treatment, both therapies are similar in nature. Both CBT and DBT incorporate self-validation and positive reinforcement in the recognition of unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors. These therapy types help with emotion regulation and stress tolerance. Both therapies are proven to be an effective treatment for many mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar, and eating disorders.

Whether you are in CBT or DBT, it’s likely you’ll be assigned homework to complete between sessions. Just like any new skill, these homework assignments help you practice what you’ve learned and enforce your mastery in real situations. Both therapies involve learning new coping skills (like mindfulness) to handle life issues and difficult emotions.

Differences between CBT and DBT

While CBT and DBT are similar, they do have distinct differences that make them suitable for certain mental health disorders. DBT was built as a comprehensive treatment for people who see little to no improvement in other therapy models. CBT is more of a short-term general therapy approach, while DBT is effective for more severe mental health conditions, intense emotions, and symptoms of disorders that involve dangerous behavior, like suicidal thoughts or self-harm.

CBT helps you notice your thinking patterns, challenge your beliefs, and change them accordingly; however, DBT is based on strategies of acceptance, or learning to sit in uncomfortable emotions, accept them, and learn to cope and manage them.

Because of the intense nature of a patient’s symptoms, DBT has a component of phone coaching that is not present in CBT. This allows for patient-therapist interaction at any time during the day when the patient may be in a crisis situation or a highly unstable mindset. By reaching out to their therapist, the patient can then receive helpful guidance, reminders, and encouragement to help manage the situation.

Which therapy should I choose?

The best therapy type for you is dependent on many factors. You’ll want to pinpoint the problems you would like to address in therapy before deciding on an approach. If you have a specific mental health condition, you may explore therapies that fit your needs best. It’s a good idea to do a little bit of research on mental health treatment types and talk to your primary care doctor or psychiatrist before making an appointment with a new mental health professional.

Regardless of the type of therapy you choose; Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or something else, you should be proud of yourself for taking the first step in prioritizing and improving your wellbeing and practicing healthier thinking. Parenting can be extremely difficult, so there’s nothing wrong with needing a bit of extra help when it comes to your mental health. Therapy gives you the opportunity to open your eyes to the inner strength you have within you, improving your quality of life long term.

Find a mental health therapist near you.



Kristen Luft is a digital marketer working on health-centered blog posts for Wellistic. When she's not writing, you can find her reading, snuggling her greyhound or chihuahua, or following the latest trends on Instagram.

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