Understanding the Differences Between CBT and DBT

dbt vs cbt

If you are considering therapy, you will quickly discover that there are all types of therapy sessions. Two of the most common options are dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). These two treatments might sound very similar, but they actually have some distinct differences. To decide which option you need, it is useful to learn a little about how these therapies work.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

CBT is a type of talk therapy, so it mostly works by having you chat back and forth with a mental health counselor. This type of therapy is often a fast and reliable way of addressing specific issues. Your therapist will help you target problems like addiction or anxiety. You start by identifying unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. Then your therapist assists you with finding strategies for changing these issues and coping with them. CBT helps people escape irrational thoughts and get more control over their behavior.

What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

Knowing the answer to “what is dialectical behavioral therapy?” can help with understanding DBT vs CBT. Dialectical behavioral therapy’s main focus is on helping patients balance emotions and improves behavior patterns. This form of therapy begins with identifying the thought patterns and emotions that may be leading to distress. Then, it teaches the patient how to combine these thoughts with healthier ideas, leading to an overall more beneficial outlook. Instead of trying to change patients’ behaviors and thoughts entirely, DBT just helps them achieve a more balanced worldview. During DBT sessions, therapists often assist patients with behavioral skills, and then they can practice these skills in group sessions.

cbt for depression

Similarities Between DBT and CBT

Dialectical behavioral therapy was initially formed as a branch of CBT, so it shares some similarities. In fact, some therapists believe DBT is simply a type of CBT that incorporates more mindfulness theories. Both types of therapy focus primarily on talking with a counsellor about your challenges. You can expect to spend your sessions answering your therapist’s questions and just talking about how you feel. They also have the same basic idea of thoughts, behaviors, and feelings all being closely linked. Whether a patient does CBT or DBT, they will explore how their thoughts may be influencing their behaviors. There is some overlap in DBT and CBT uses, with both types of therapy occasionally being used to treat the same behavioral disorder.

Differences Between DBT and CBT

Despite some basic similarities, DBT and CBT are not the same therapy module. Some patients may respond better to DBT, while others find that CBT works better for them. Here are some of the key differences between DBT vs CBT.


Typically, CBT is more goal-oriented. It aims to help patients identify negative thoughts or behaviors and then it gives patients tools to adjust these problems. DBT does have goals, but they are not as firm and direct. Its main purpose is to help patients find a way to accept themselves, manage emotions, and regulate destructive behavior. DBT focuses more on emotional and social aspects, while CBT is more about the patient’s behaviors.


A big difference in DBT vs CBT is how they approach the patient. DBT is mostly focused on how a person interacts with others and themselves. It tends to use mindfulness philosophies to help patients accept themselves and their environment. Meanwhile, CBT tends to be more logic-focused. Therapists encourage patients to use critical thinking to develop healthier ways of thinking and behaving.

Types of Sessions

CBT sessions are usually shorter sessions than DBT overall. CBT may just last a few weeks, while DBT is often a months-long process. An important difference is that DBT typically involves a group therapy component. Though CBT can sometimes have group sessions, talking to your peers is not as essential. For patients doing DBT, being able to do group sessions is an important part of the process. It gives people a chance to practice skills like interpersonal communication in a supportive and safe environment.


Because CBT focuses on changing problematic thinking while DBT is more about regulating intense emotions, they have different uses. Research has found that CBT is the most effective option for:

  • Depression
  • Generalized anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive compulsive disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorders
  • Phobia management

Meanwhile, DBT is clinically proven to be effective for:

  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-harm
  • Substance use disorders

DBT for Addiction Treatment

Both CBT and DBT can be used for addiction treatment, but some research indicates that DBT may be more effective. DBT for addiction is useful because it goes more into the root problems that may be contributing to a substance use disorder. Basic CBT can do things like help a patient identify that they use drugs when stressed and find a better way of dealing with stress. However, DBT goes deeper into the issue, examining the stress itself. The mindfulness techniques so common in DBT can help with the emotional imbalances so common in addiction.

Another reason DBT is so useful is that it involves a slightly different patient-counselor relationship. With its focus on acceptance and validation, DBT helps patients who might feel judged or criticized during traditional CBT sessions. DBT’s focus on helping patients find their own strengths can provide a lot of encouragement during the difficult process of recovery.

At Mission Harbor Behavioral Health, we provide both CBT and DBT treatment options. As a dual diagnosis treatment center, we can assist with both substance use and underlying mental health disorders. Our counselors can assess your current needs and create an individualized treatment plan with the right therapies for you. If you or a loved one is currently struggling with addiction, give us a call today to set up a consultation.

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Therapy With CBT Vs. DBT: What’s The Difference?

If you want to heal accordingly from addiction, it is essential to receive some form of therapy. Both CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) have been effective in addiction treatment. So what is the difference between these two psychotherapies, and how can they help in your recovery? Our Southern California rehab facility wants you to learn the differences between the two treatments to better assess your situation.

What is CBT Therapy?

CBT applies The Socratic Method, a form of a cooperative dialogue between individuals based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and help patients see the logical assumptions vs. the facts. If there are feelings of failure, the patient asks to look at the reality of the situation and the facts involved.

Therapists who practice CBT name certain features that are part of this type of therapy. They include the following:

  • It treats emotional response
  • It is useful for a specific period 
  • It treats effectively when patient-therapist trust is established
  • It adds logic and reason to treatment
  • It treats with specific goals and is custom-tailored

What is DBT Therapy?

DBT is a part of CBT that focuses on the pain that the person is experiencing daily. It examines the triggers that may cause distress and emphasizes a healthy response to those situations. Mindfulness helps the patient relieve the emotional imbalance. In some ways, its methods are similar to the practices of Buddhism and Zen.

Accepting the suffering of the world while living with it is often emphasized with DBT Therapy. Having a clear mind is a part of DBT therapy for the treatment of substance abuse.

Some of its goals include the following:

  • Clear the mind
  • Enhance patient ability
  • Institute new behaviors
  • Structure the environment
  • Enhance the interaction with the therapist

Treatment may involve group therapy, individual therapy, and telephone consultation.

What Are the Main Differences Between These  Two Therapies?

CBT has more of a focus on how thoughts, feelings, and behavior all influence each other. With CBT, patients learn to see when thoughts might become troublesome; it gives them the ability to redirect their thoughts through specific techniques.

On the other hand, DBT recognizes the same things as CBT but adds the adjustment of emotions, being more mindful, and learning to accept the pain that is part of being human. By receiving themselves, patients may feel safer with managing emotions; this helps to regulate destructive behaviors.


The person beginning DBT may be in a group setting that teaches DBT skills, often in four sessions. They then receive weekly sessions of DBT. In some cases, patients may transition to CBT once they know that they have the skills to regulate their emotions and engage in mindfulness. They will then explore their negative thinking patterns and harmful behaviors through the use of CBT.

Now that you know the difference between the therapies used for addiction treatment, you may want to contact our Mission Harbor Southern California rehab facility at 805-209-2443 to begin your path to overcoming substance abuse and other issues.


The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.

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