DBT for PTSD: Can it Help You?

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Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a comprehensive, evidence-based treatment approach that has shown significant promise for individuals suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder, DBT combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with elements of mindfulness and acceptance strategies to help individuals manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. 

This article provides an overview of DBT for PTSD, discussing who might benefit from this therapy, potential considerations, how to start the therapy, and what to expect from a typical DBT session. 


Trauma & PTSD Therapists in Colorado

Jackie Erwin, LPC

Jackie Erwin, LPC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Katie (Kate) Castillo, MS, LPCC

Katie (Kate) Castillo, MS, LPCC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Abigail Corless, LPCC

Abigail Corless, LPCC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Samantha Zavala, LPCC

Samantha Zavala, LPCC

Aurora, Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Cassondra Chagnon, LPCC

Cassondra Chagnon, LPCC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 481-3518
Olivia Woodring, LPCC, NCC

Olivia Woodring, LPCC, NCC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Sarah Webster, SWC

Sarah Webster, SWC

Colorado
(719) 696-3439
Barbra Styles, LPC, LAC

Barbra Styles, LPC, LAC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Sarah Tapia, LPCC

Sarah Tapia, LPCC

Colorado
(719) 602-1342
Julianna Miller, LPCC

Julianna Miller, LPCC

Aurora, Colorado
(720) 449-4121

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How DBT Works for PTSD


Here's a detailed look at how each component of DBT can help manage PTSD symptoms:

Mindfulness: 

This involves learning to be fully present in the moment, which can help those with PTSD better manage intrusive thoughts and flashbacks. 

It promotes acceptance of the traumatic event and reduces avoidance behaviors.

Distress Tolerance: 

Distress Tolerance teaches techniques to tolerate stress without avoiding it or turning to self-destructive behaviors.

It can help individuals with PTSD cope with intense emotional responses to trauma reminders.

Emotion Regulation: 

This helps individuals identify and manage negative emotions, such as fear, guilt, and anger, often experienced by those with PTSD. 

It helps in reducing emotional vulnerability and increasing positive emotional experiences.

Interpersonal Effectiveness: 

This involves learning assertiveness skills and how to manage conflict. For those with PTSD, this can be particularly useful in addressing feelings of powerlessness and improving relationships.

In addition to these components, DBT for PTSD also includes individual therapy, group skills training, telephone coaching, and therapist consultation. 

These components work together to help an individual manage their symptoms, improve their quality of life and, ultimately, overcome PTSD. 



Comparing DBT to Other Therapies for PTSD

There are several therapeutic approaches used to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). 

Let's take a look at these therapies and how they compare to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a broad type of therapy that aims to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind an individual's difficulties.

In the context of PTSD, CBT often involves techniques to help individuals challenge and change their unhelpful thoughts related to the traumatic event. 

Unlike DBT, CBT does not typically include elements of mindfulness or distress tolerance. However, it has been widely researched and is considered a first-line treatment for PTSD.

  2. Exposure Therapy: This form of therapy involves exposing the patient to thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind them of the trauma. 

The goal is to help individuals confront and gain control over their fear and distress. 

While exposure therapy can be very effective, it can also be quite intense and may not be suitable for everyone. 

On the other hand, DBT includes elements of exposure but also combines it with skills training and a focus on acceptance.

  3. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is a unique therapy for PTSD that involves the patient recalling traumatic experiences while receiving bilateral sensory input, such as side-to-side eye movements. 

Some studies suggest EMDR can be as effective as CBT for treating PTSD. Unlike DBT, EMDR does not involve skill-building or group sessions.

Each of these therapies has its own set of advantages and disadvantages and may be more or less suited to different individuals.

DBT's emphasis on acceptance, mindfulness, and skill-building can be extremely beneficial for some people with PTSD, particularly those who struggle with emotional regulation or interpersonal relationships. 

However, the intensity and commitment required for DBT may not be appropriate for everyone. 



Who Can Benefit From DBT for PTSD

Individuals with Emotion Regulation Difficulties: DBT is designed to help those who struggle with regulating their emotions, which is a common challenge for individuals with PTSD.

People with Suicidal Thoughts or Self-Harm Tendencies: DBT was initially developed to treat borderline personality disorder and has been proven particularly effective in reducing suicidal behavior and self-harm.

Those with Co-occurring Disorders: DBT can benefit individuals who have PTSD along with other mental health disorders like depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, or substance abuse disorders.

Individuals Struggling with Interpersonal Relationships: DBT can be beneficial for those who have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships due to their PTSD symptoms.

Those Who Have Not Responded to Other Therapies: Individuals who haven't found success with other forms of therapy may benefit from DBT's unique approach, which combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness and acceptance strategies. 


How to Start DBT for PTSD

Starting Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) begins with finding a qualified DBT therapist, which can often be done through referrals from your primary healthcare provider or through online databases.

Once you've found a potential therapist, it's important to ensure they're adequately trained in DBT and have experience treating PTSD.

In a typical DBT session, you can expect a combination of individual therapy, group skills training, and homework assignments aimed at teaching and reinforcing emotional regulation, distress tolerance, mindfulness, and interpersonal effectiveness. 

The costs of DBT can vary widely depending on factors such as location, insurance coverage, and whether the therapist offers a sliding scale fee structure. 

It's also crucial to consider the significant time commitment involved, as DBT typically requires weekly individual therapy sessions, group sessions, and daily homework assignments. 


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Conclusion

In conclusion, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can be an effective treatment option for those struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), particularly when other forms of therapy have not been successful. 

It offers a comprehensive approach that addresses emotional regulation, distress tolerance, mindfulness, and interpersonal effectiveness. 

However, it's important to consider the intensity of the therapy, the potential costs, and the time commitment involved. 

As with any form of therapy, it is crucial to find a qualified DBT therapist who can ensure the therapy is tailored to meet individual needs. 

Individuals considering DBT should consult with a mental health professional to determine if this approach is the right fit for their specific symptoms and circumstances. 


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July 17th, 2024

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