How is Dialectical Behavior Therapy Used to Treat Borderline Personality Disorder?

dialectical behavior therapy for borderline personality disorder

How is Dialectical Behavior Therapy Used to Treat Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health condition affecting how you think and feel about yourself and others. The condition often causes self-image issues, difficulty managing emotions and behaviors, and a pattern of unstable relationships. Oftentimes, a borderline personality disorder is developed after experiencing significant childhood trauma.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “It’s estimated that 1.4% of the adult U.S. population experiences BPD. Nearly 75% of people diagnosed with BPD are women.”[1]

When you struggle with borderline personality disorder, you experience an intense fear of abandonment and have difficulty being alone. Unfortunately, the common symptoms of inappropriate anger, impulsiveness, and frequent mood swings may push people away, despite your desire for loving and long-lasting relationships.

Because of the unmanageability caused by BPD, receiving professional treatment is highly important. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is one of the most popular treatments for borderline personality disorder. In fact, it was developed specifically to treat this condition.

What are the Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?

If you struggle with borderline personality disorder (BPD), you are probably used to experiencing mood swings and a great sense of instability and insecurity. This may cause you to act out in friendships and romantic relationships, leading to further instability in your life.

Common symptoms of BPD include:

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or perceived instances of abandonment by friends, family, and romantic partners
  • Unstable relationships that alternate between idealization and devaluation, also known as “splitting”
  • Having a distorted and unstable self-image that affects your moods, values, goals, and relationships
  • Engaging in impulsive behaviors that could lead to dangerous outcomes
  • Self-harming behavior, suicidal ideation, threats of suicide, and attempts
  • Periods of intense depressed mood that may last a few hours or a few days
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Inappropriate, intense, and uncontrollable anger that is followed by shame and guilt
  • Experiencing dissociation – disconnecting from your thoughts and feelings or having an out-of-body experience
  • Experiencing stress-related paranoid thoughts that, in severe cases, can lead to stress-induced psychotic episodes

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that was modified to focus more on stress and emotional regulation. The main goals of DBT are to teach you how to live in the moment, develop healthy ways to cope with stress, and improve your relationships with others.

This form of therapy is the most popular type of treatment for people suffering from a borderline personality disorder. In fact, dialectical behavior therapy was created to treat BPD, but it is now used to aid in the recovery of a variety of mental health conditions. Dialectical behavior therapy is helpful if you struggle with emotional regulation or exhibit self-destructing behaviors (i.e. substance abuse, self-harm, or eating disorders).

While this therapeutic model was created with BPD in mind, it helps treat the following conditions:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Non-suicidal self-injury
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance use disorder (SUD)
  • Suicidal behavior

DBT Techniques That Are Helpful In Treating BPD

Dialectical behavior therapy uses a variety of therapeutic techniques that are helpful in the treatment of borderline personality disorder.

According to the National Library of Medicine, “Dialectical behavior therapy aims to address the symptoms of BPD by replacing maladaptive behaviors with healthier coping skills, such as mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance.”[2]

Four DBT techniques that are most helpful in treating BPD include:

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a practice that teaches you how to focus on the present moment. You will pay attention to your breathing, thoughts, and feelings as they arise during meditation. The goal of this technique is to teach you how to observe, focus, analyze, describe, and be a part of every experience without judgment.

Mindfulness meditation is helpful if you have BPD because it allows you to take a step back and observe your current reality before you express yourself inappropriately. It can help treat the emotional outbursts that you may experience as a result of your borderline personality disorder.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

The therapist will work with you to enhance your interpersonal effectiveness. Having interpersonal effectiveness skills can allow you to become more assertive in a relationship while keeping conversations positive and healthy. This is very beneficial if you suffer from BPD, as instability in relationships is a common symptom.

Distress Tolerance

DBT also teaches you distress tolerance by teaching you new ways to tolerate stressful situations without engaging in negative coping mechanisms like self-harm or substance abuse. This module of DBT helps you learn how to stop and think before you react.

If you struggle with BPD, you most likely experience strong and intense emotions that cause you to act out impulsively and engage in destructive behaviors. Learning distress tolerance will allow you to manage strong emotions so you can respond in a healthy, effective, and appropriate way.

Emotion Regulation Skills

Dialectical behavior therapy also emphasizes teaching you how to proactively recognize and cope with your emotional reactions. When you are able to identify a strong emotion before it turns into a behavior, you can react appropriately.

Emotional regulation skills can help you accept your feelings without allowing them to take over. As a result, you will adopt healthy coping mechanisms that can improve stressful situations.

Get Connected With a BPD Treatment Center

If you or a loved one suffers from a borderline personality disorder, it is important to remember that recovery is possible. Living with this condition can feel very lonely and hopeless, as the symptoms of BPD can make it difficult for you to cope with daily life.

At Florida Recovery Group, we offer a separate mental health program specifically for adults 18 and older who suffer with emotional and psychiatric health issues. Our team of mental health therapists and medical professionals will evaluate, diagnose and treat the root cause with compassion and empathy. Contact us today to get started.