20 DBT Worksheets and Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills

Dialectical Behavior TherapyDialectical Behavior Therapy is an interestingly named treatment.

If you’re as lost as I was when I first heard the term, then you’ve come to the right place. In this piece, you will learn what DBT is, how it works, and some of the most useful and applicable components of treatment.

Whether you are someone who is thinking about participating in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, a therapist who is looking for DBT worksheets to use with clients, or just a curious individual, read on to learn more about it.

Mindfulness is critical to DBT. Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Mindfulness Exercises for free. These science-based, comprehensive exercises will not only help you cultivate a sense of inner peace throughout your daily life but will also give you the tools to enhance the mindfulness of your clients, students or employees.

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy? A Definition.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on the psychosocial aspects of therapy, emphasizing the importance of a collaborative relationship, support for the client, and the development of skills for dealing with highly emotional situations (Psych Central, 2016).

DBT was created for the treatment of individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts but has matured into a treatment for a range of other conditions that involve dysfunctional emotional regulation. It is currently considered the “gold standard” for borderline personality disorder and has even been applied to the treatment of substance abuse and eating disorders (Linehan Institute, n.d.).

DBT is generally characterized by its two main components:

  • Individual weekly therapy sessions;
  • Weekly group therapy sessions.


Individual Weekly Therapy Sessions

These individual sessions are an opportunity for the therapist and client to address the issues and solutions that came up over the last week, with special attention paid to self-destructive or potentially self-harmful behaviors. These behaviors are targeted not only because they are inherently worrisome, but also because they can seriously disrupt the treatment process and undermine treatment goals.

Clients and therapists work as a team in these individual sessions, with the focus on learning and improving social and coping skills. They may also discuss more general issues relevant to improving the client’s quality of life, or more specific issues like post-traumatic stress disorder.


Weekly Group Therapy Sessions

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy? A DefinitionThe weekly sessions are also intended to foster skill-building, but clients learn together with the guidance of a therapist rather than working one-on-one.

These sessions are usually scheduled for two and a half hours and generally focus on developing skills from one of four skill areas:

  1. Interpersonal effectiveness;
  2. Distress tolerance/reality acceptance skills;
  3. Emotion regulation;
  4. Mindfulness skills.


Skill Modules

These four skill modules cover a wide range of useful skills that can be applied in daily life:

1. Interpersonal Effectiveness Module

The skills in this module are related to interacting with others, especially in difficult or potentially damaging situations.

These skills are intended to help clients function effectively when trying to change something (e.g., making a request) or in trying to resist changes (e.g., refusing a request). The intention is to aid the client in meeting their goals in each situation while avoiding any damage to the relationship or to the client’s self-respect (Psych Central, 2016).

2. Distress Tolerance Module

This module includes skills that are extremely important yet often overlooked: skills relating to accepting, tolerating, and learning from suffering.

Many other mental health treatment regimens focus on avoiding pain, changing difficult situations, or walking away from circumstances that cause suffering, but the distress tolerance skills taught through Dialectical Behavior Therapy focus on dealing with the pain and suffering that is inevitable to the human condition.

The distress tolerance module is split into four crisis survival strategies:

  1. Distracting;
  2. Self-soothing;
  3. Improving the moment;
  4. Thinking of pros and cons.

In addition, there are many skills that relate to accepting and tolerating the current situation, like radical acceptance and willingness vs. willfulness.

3. Emotion Regulation Module

Many clients who participate in DBT are struggling with personality or mood disorders and can benefit immensely from emotion regulation skills.

Some of these skills that can help clients deal with their emotions include:

  1. Identifying and labeling emotions;
  2. Identifying obstacles to changing emotions;
  3. Reducing vulnerability to “emotion mind;”
  4. Increasing positive emotional events;
  5. Increasing mindfulness to current emotions;
  6. Taking the opposite action;
  7. Applying distress tolerance techniques (Psych Central, 2016).

4. Mindfulness Module

Readers of this blog are likely already aware of the numerous mindfulness-related skills that can benefit them in their daily life.

These skills include “what” skills or skills that answer the question “What do I do to practice core mindfulness skills?” like observing, describing, and participating. There are also “how” skills or skills that answer the question “How do I practice core mindfulness skills?”, like non-judgment and practicing “One-mindfully” effectively.

Many of these mindfulness skills feed into skills from the other modules; for example, the nonjudgment encouraged in mindfulness is also encouraged in distress tolerance, and the observing and describing skills can be helpful in identifying and labeling emotions.


About the Founder Marsha Linehan

About the Founder by Marsha Linehan DBT
Dr. Marsha Linehan. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan.

She is a Professor of Psychology and adjunct Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington and Director of the Behavioral Research and Therapy Clinics, a research consortium that explores treatments for severely disordered and suicidal individuals (The Linehan Institute, n.d.).

Dr. Linehan is dedicated to promoting effective and accessible resources for the treatment of individuals who are struggling.

Dr. Linehan founded Behavioral Tech LLC, an institute focused on developing and sharing treatment tools for DBT training, consultation, and treatment. Behavioral Tech Research, Inc., was also established by Dr. Linehan in an effort to incorporate online and mobile technology into the successful practice of DBT.

Dr. Linehan approaches her scientific research and development from a perspective that is relatively uncommon in the sciences: one based in spirituality. She has trained with a number of spiritual leaders and influential thinkers, including a Zen master.

This may help explain her affinity for mindfulness, which grew to prominence through a collaboration of traditional Buddhist philosophy and the modern scientific paradigm (The Linehan Institute, n.d.).


DBT vs. CBT: How Do They Differ?

dbt group therapy sessionYou may be thinking that Dialectical Behavior Therapy sounds a lot like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in general.

Of course, DBT is a type of CBT, so similarities are understandable. But DBT also has distinct features that set it apart from most CBT approaches.

DBT, like CBT, focuses on helping people address their dysfunctional thinking and behavior through modification of their thought patterns and, through changing their thoughts, their behavior as well. However, CBT is usually confined to a limited period of time and is often applied with one or two specific goals in mind.

On the other hand, DBT narrows the focus to psychosocial aspects of daily life. Many people have trouble with their thought and behavior patterns, but these issues are often at their most disruptive in the context of relationships with others. DBT was created to approach treatment from this angle, one that is often incorporated in general CBT but is not typically the main focus (Grohol, 2016).

This emphasis on relating to others is what explains the DBT-specific treatment component of group therapy sessions. The benefits of additional therapy to the treatment of severe emotion regulation dysfunction are clear, but it’s the group aspect that really helps explain its importance.

Adding group dynamics to the learning setting offers clients an opportunity to practice relational skills in a safe and supportive environment, a practice that has been shown to be extremely effective.

DBT also differs from general CBT in the use of clients’ history. Both incorporate the past in striving for a healthier future, but this discussion is not a focus of the therapy in DBT as it often is in CBT (Grohol, 2016). The perspective of DBT is that one can learn from their past, but that problems are inevitably rooted in current thoughts and behaviors, and the present is where these will be addressed.


4 Essential DBT Skills & Techniques to Master

Build Mastery SkillsThe essential Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills are categorized into the four skill modules as outlined below.

We won’t go into all of them in detail, but these are the main skills and techniques applied in DBT.


Interpersonal Effective Skills

1) Objectiveness Effectiveness “DEAR MAN” Skills

  • Describe;
  • Express;
  • Assert;
  • Reinforce;
  • Mindful;
  • Appear confident;
  • Negotiate.

2) Relationship Effectiveness “GIVE” Skills

  • Gentle;
  • Interested;
  • Validate;
  • Easy manner.

3) Self-Respect Effectiveness “FAST” Skills

  • Fair;
  • Apologies / no apologies;
  • Stick to value;
  • Truthful.


Distress Tolerance Skills

1) Crisis Survival “ACCEPTS” Skills

  • Activities;
  • Contributing;
  • Comparisons;
  • Emotions;
  • Pushing away;
  • Thoughts;
  • Sensations.

2) Self-Soothing Skills

  • Taste;
  • Smell;
  • See;
  • Hear;
  • Touch;

3) Improve the Moment “IMPROVE” Skills

  • Imagery;
  • Meaning;
  • Prayer;
  • Relaxation;
  • One thing at a time;
  • Vacation;
  • Encouragement.

4) Pros and Cons / Accepting Reality Skills

  • Willingness;
  • Turning your mind;
  • Radical acceptance.


Emotion Regulation Skills

1) Reducing Vulnerability Skills

  • Treat physical illness;
  • Eating;
  • Altering drugs (only those prescribed by a doctor);
  • Sleep;
  • Exercise.

2) Build Mastery Skills

  • Build positive experiences;
  • Be mindful of current emotion;
  • Opposite to emotion action.


Mindfulness Skills

1) “What” skills

  • Observe;
  • Describe;
  • Participate.

2) “How” skills

  • Non-judgmentally;
  • One-mindfully;
  • Effectively (Dietz, 2012).

As you can see, acronyms are front and center in DBT treatment, in part because it makes remembering these skills in important moments easier.

You may also notice that many of these skills are generally considered effective skills, rather than specific skills for specific problems. While Dialectical Behavior Therapy focuses on the treatment of severely distressed individuals, the means of working towards these goals are not mystical or mysterious. The methods of furthering treatment are grounded in common sense and the straightforward practice of skills.

In fact, these skills are so generally applicable that many of them have practical applications for everyone.



Mindfulness is such a simple and beneficial practice that it’s hard to sum up the potential positive impacts in one section, let alone one article (but we gave it a shot anyway – see our piece on the benefits of mindfulness).

“Mindfulness can be described as simply living your life in the present instead of being stuck in the past or the future. Practicing mindfulness helps us become more aware of our thought patterns, our emotions, and how our thoughts and feelings affect our reactions to events” (Tartakovsky, 2015A).

If your mind has you jumping on the thought train (i.e., one thought leads to another, which often leads to a “should” thought, which can lead to judgment), try to detach yourself from the thought by telling yourself about the thought you are having (e.g., “There’s a thought about the errand I need to run after work”).

This can help you refocus on your current practice and remind yourself that you have thoughts, but you are not your thoughts (Tartakovsky, 2015A).

If you’re interested in learning more about how to practice mindfulness, check out our post on mindfulness exercises and techniques.


Reality Acceptance

Reality Acceptance dbtThis is an important skill that provides obvious benefits for those struggling with emotional dis-regulation, but can also benefit the average person.

Accepting reality is an effective antidote for a common problem in our society: struggling against the pain and suffering that is inherent to life as a human. DBT and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) have this in common – both teach that accepting our reality, including the unpleasant aspects of it, is the only way to thrive.

This skill can be harder to practice and build than it seems since there are all sorts of sneaky ways we find to deny the reality of our situation.

These examples from Psych Central can shed some light on when we fight reality and how we can stop this tendency:

  • You need to rush home, but you’re catching every red light. Instead of getting frustrated, you take a deep breath and tell yourself: “It is what it is. I’ll get home when I get there.”

  • You need to fill up your car, but gas prices have skyrocketed. Again, you breathe deeply, and say to yourself: “There’s nothing I can do about it. I need gas. Getting angry isn’t going to help.

  • You have to walk to work because your car is in the shop. It’s not far, but it’s pouring. You take a deep breath and say: “It’s just rain. I’ll bring a towel, and I’ll dry off when I get to work” (Tartakovsky, 2015A).

The part-humorous, part-helpful Tumblr blog “Shit Borderlines Do” provides some steps towards practicing this skill in the moment:

  • Observe that you are fighting the reality of your situation. Acknowledge that you are reacting to something that you cannot change;

  • Remind yourself what the reality is, even if it’s difficult or upsetting;

  • Consider the causes of the current reality and incorporate the skill of non-judgment to remind yourself that this is a random occurrence set in motion by a million other factors that are outside of your control;

  • Accept this reality with your whole being, or your mind, body, and spirit. Pay attention to the bodily signs of fighting reality (e.g., posture, “fight-or-flight” response) as well as the spiritual signs (you may “know” that this is real, but you don’t “feel” like it’s real).

These steps are by no means exhaustive or required to accept reality, but they can be helpful in the moment.


Radical Acceptance

Dialectical Behavior Therapy’s radical acceptance technique can help in these situations.

Radical acceptance is simply acknowledging the reality of your circumstances instead of fighting it by thinking “This shouldn’t be happening” or “This isn’t fair.

It can be difficult to accept pain, but fighting the reality of your pain only creates more pain, and this pain is optional. Instead of fighting pain, radical acceptance offers a way to accept it and address it.

In the words of psychotherapist Sheri Van Dijk:

“If you don’t like something, you first have to accept that it is the way it is before you can try to [change] it. If you’re not accepting something, you’ll be so busy fighting that reality that you don’t have the energy to put towards trying to change it” (Tartakovsky, 2015).

This explanation shows us that not only can radical acceptance help us accept the reality of things that we cannot change, it can also help us to realize what can be changed.


Non-judgmental Stance

Nonjudgmental Stance dbtThe art of being non-judgmental is one that takes practice, but the payoffs can be immense.

Being non-judgmental means that you avoid assigning value to events and feelings.

Instead of facing a difficult situation and thinking “This is awful,” practicing non-judgment allows us to take a step back and realize that the value judgments we make are based on facts (the facts of what is happening) and the emotions we are feeling in reaction (Tartakovsky, 2015B).

For example, you may be stuck in accident-related traffic and thinking “People are such idiots.” If you make an effort to be nonjudgmental, this may translate to “I’m stuck at a standstill in traffic because of an accident up ahead. This makes me frustrated and upset.

When you break a judgment down into a fact and your emotional reaction, you not only reduce the emotion(s) you are feeling, you can also be empowered to think about ways to solve the problem and make healthy decisions.

Say you are thinking about how selfish your significant other is being right now. Instead of stopping at “My partner is so selfish,” practicing non-judgment may lead to articulating the issue (“My partner is not helping me with this problem, and that makes me angry and disappointed”) and finding a way to solve it (“This is not a wise use of my time and energy. I will talk to my partner about how his/her unwillingness to help me with this problem makes me feel, and try to negotiate a solution with him/her”).

Handling emotional situations in this manner can not only help you reduce your emotional reaction and find smart solutions to problems, it can also improve your self-esteem and self-respect when you handle the issue in a way that makes you proud of yourself (Tartakovsky, 2015B).


6 DBT Worksheets, Handout, and Manuals (PDF)

DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness SkillsYou’re probably thinking that these skills sound really helpful and effective, but you may not be sure how to begin learning about and practicing them.

This is where Dialectical Behavior Therapy worksheets, handouts, and manuals can prove to be extremely effective tools in building your skills and improving your ability to accept your situation, deal with difficulty, and solve problems.

We’ll go over some of the most popular and effective ones below.


DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills

This handout lists and describes the interpersonal effectiveness skills we outlined earlier, and also provides useful tips to put these skills into practice.

For example, the section on objective effectiveness (the DEAR MAN skills) lists the following tips:


  • Use clear and concrete terms to describe what you want;
  • Don’t say: “Could you please clean?”;
  • Do say: “Could you do the dishes before going to bed?”


  • Let others know how a situation makes you feel by clearly expressing your feelings;
  • Don’t expect others to read your mind;
  • Try using this line: “I feel ___ because ___.”


  • Don’t beat around the bush—say what you need to say;
  • Don’t say: “Oh, well, I don’t know if I can cook tonight or not;”
  • Do say: “I won’t be able to cook because I’m working late.”


  • Reward people who respond well, and reinforce why your desired outcome is positive;
  • This can be as simple as a smile and a “thank you.”


  • Don’t forget the objective of the interaction;
  • It can be easy to get sidetracked into harmful arguments and lose focus.


  • Appear confident;
  • Consider your posture, tone, eye contact, and body language.


  • No one can have everything they want out of an interaction all the time;
  • Be open to negotiation;
  • Do say: “If you wash the dishes, I’ll put them away.”


The Wise Mind

This worksheet describes the concept of the “wise mind” as the intersection between the emotional mind and the reasonable mind. It is a balance between the two minds and is characterized by the ability to recognize and respect your feelings, but also respond to them in a rational manner.

The worksheet offers space to describe an experience that you have had with each of these three “minds” to further your understanding of the minds and how they have come into play in your life.


DBT Worksheets, Handout and Manuals the wise mind
Venn Diagram Model for Thoughts and Emotions.

Working with Primary and Secondary Emotions

While this webpage is not laid out as a worksheet, it could easily be adapted into a worksheet, and the lesson it teaches is a valuable one.

It starts with a mini flow chart on identifying the emotion you are feeling and deciding how you can respond.

First, you ask yourself, “Does the emotion fit the facts and is it appropriate in its level of intensity?”

If the answer is yes, it is a primary emotion and your potential solutions are to:

  1. Act on the emotion;
  2. Use mindfulness to address your current emotion, or;
  3. Accept the consequences gracefully.

If you answer “no,” it is a secondary emotion with the following potential solutions:

  1. Change your thoughts to fit the facts;
  2. Take the opposite action;
  3. Engage in problem-solving.

The “opposite action” from above is based on the emotion you are feeling. The next section of the webpage dives into the emotion when it “fits the facts,” and what the opposite action is.

For example, if you are feeling fear, the emotion fits the facts when:

  1. Your life or that of someone you care about is threatened;
  2. Your health or that of someone you care about is threatened;
  3. Your well-being or that of someone you care about is threatened.

If the emotion does not fit the facts, the opposite actions for fear are:

  1. Do what you are afraid of doing over and over again;
  2. Approach events, places, tasks, activities, and people you are afraid of;
  3. Do things to give yourself a sense of control and mastery over your fears.

This flowchart and the “check the facts/opposite action” section could make an excellent worksheet for therapists and other mental health professionals!


Radical Acceptance Worksheet

This worksheet helps you to identify and understand a situation you are struggling to accept.

First, you answer the question, “What is the problem or situation?”

Next, you describe the part of this situation that is difficult for you to accept.

Then you describe the reality of that situation.

After describing the reality, think about the causes that led up that reality (hint: many of them you will find to be outside of your control).

Next, you practice acceptance with the whole self (mind, body, and spirit) and describe how you did this. The worksheet encourages you to try the following:

“Breathe deeply, put your body into an open, accepting posture, and notice and let go of thoughts and feelings that fight the reality. Practice skills for acceptance such as half-smile, awareness exercises, or prayer. Focus on a statement of acceptance, such as ‘it is what it is’ or ‘everything is as it should be.'”

Finally, you rate your distress tolerance about this difficult situation both before and after practicing radical acceptance, on a scale from 0 (you just can’t take it) to 100 (total acceptance of reality).


Function of Emotion Worksheet

Function of Emotion WorksheetThe Function of Emotion Regulation worksheet helps you to identify the function of an emotional reaction you have had over the last week.

The worksheet moves through the following questions and steps:

  1. What was the prompting event?
  2. What was your interpretation?
  3. What was the emotion and intensity (0-100)?

Use the following to identify the function(s) of the emotion:

  1. Did the emotion communicate something to others or influence their behavior? If so, describe;
  2. Did the emotion organize or motivate you to do something? If so, describe;
  3. Did the emotion give you information, color your perception, or lead you to any conclusions? If so, describe.

These questions aid the individual in making the connections between a galvanizing event and the reaction s/he had to the event, as well as understanding how the emotional reaction impacts the self and others.


DBT Skills Training Manual: Second Edition

For a resource that can help you apply general DBT treatment, check out this manual from Dr. Linehan herself. It’s not free, but it is an extremely valuable resource for applying DBT with your clients.

This manual is separated into two parts: the first describes DBT and provides instructions on how to set up a treatment program and manage the problems that can arise, while the second gives detailed notes on teaching each DBT skill.

Check out the manual, buying options, and reviews from some very satisfied readers here.


What Is The Diary Card All About?

The Diary CardThe diary card is an important component of Dialectical Behavior Therapy and an effective way for clients to learn about themselves.

According to dbtselfhelp.com:

“You use the card to track your urges, moods, how you did or did not use DBT Skills, your feelings, and whatever else is helpful to you. You bring these cards with you to your DBT therapist every week to help you look for behavior patterns and triggers that occur in your life. Such information is invaluable to help you to help yourself live a life worth living.”

There are many possible layouts for a diary card (see here, here, and here), but they generally contain the same fields:

  • Day/date of urge or behavior;
  • Emotions felt;
  • Actions taken or skills used (or not used);
  • Triggers for the urges.

The diary card may also include space for a general rating for the day and any medications or substances used (legal or illegal).

The client is encouraged to fill out this card regularly and faithfully. While it is important that the client does so, they should know that no one is going to score them or judge them based on their diary card. It is not an assignment to be completed and graded, but a way for them to track their experience and evaluate their progression through DBT treatment and, hopefully, self-improvement.


Diary Card App

As with most problems or issues, technology is making an impact on how people keep diary cards.

If you hate to waste paper, don’t like getting ink on your hands, or just get tired of writing, there’s a diary card app that you can use instead.

Check out the app created by a licensed clinical psychologist here.


The 4 Best Books on DBT

If you’re interested in learning more about Dialectical Behavior Therapy, as a client, therapist, or just a curious person, there are several books available.

Listed below are some of the most popular and highly reviewed books on DBT out there, and they’re all available for purchase on Amazon.com:


1. The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook – Matthew McKay, Jeffrey C. Wood, and Jeffrey Brantley

The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills WorkbookThis book has an impressive 4.5-star rating based on almost 650 reviews on Amazon.

It walks the reader through descriptions of DBT and how it can help, introductory exercises, and more advanced skill chapters. This can be an excellent resource for any individual considering DBT or for therapists to recommend to their clients.

Available on Amazon.


2. DBT Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide to Dialectical Behavior Therapy – Sheri Van Dijk

DBT Made SimpleThis guide to DBT is intended for therapists and mental health professionals looking to learn more about how to effectively apply DBT for their clients.

It includes a section on the theory and research behind DBT and how it grew from traditional CBT approaches, as well as strategies for working with clients, an explanation of the four skill modules, and several handouts, case examples, and some sample therapy dialogue.

Available on Amazon.


3. The Mindfulness Solution for Intense Emotions: Take Control of Borderline Personality Disorder with DBT – Cedar R. Koons and Marsha M. Linehan

The Mindfulness Solution for Intense Emotions: Take Control of Borderline Personality Disorder with DBTThis book is intended for individuals rather than therapists, although therapists may find the book to be a useful tool to recommend for their clients.

It teaches readers about the seven powerful skills related to mindfulness and emotion regulation that can help people cope with a borderline personality disorder (BPD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe depression, and other emotion regulation problems.

Available on Amazon.


4. Calming the Emotional Storm: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Manage Your Emotions and Balance Your Life – Sheri Van Dijk

Calming the Emotional StormThis is another resource for individuals struggling to cope with emotion dis-regulation. The description promises that the book will teach readers how to “Establish a balanced life for an everyday sense of well-being, let go of unwanted worries and fears, become better at accepting yourself and others, and work through a crisis without letting emotions take over.

With a rating of over 4.5 out of 5 stars from nearly 50 customers, it sounds like the description is accurate.

Available on Amazon.


These books are an excellent start to learning about DBT and applying the skills in your life or your clients’ lives, but if you’re looking for even more, visit this website to learn about other helpful books.


Treatment Methods Based on DBT and Emotion Regulation

Treatment Methods Based on DBT and Emotion RegulationThere are three main goals of treatments based on DBT and emotion regulation:

  1. Understanding one’s emotions;
  2. Reducing emotional vulnerability;
  3. Decreasing emotional suffering (Bray, 2013B).

There are several ways to work toward these goals.

One of the websites we mentioned earlier, dbtselfhelp.com, offers an outline of how to build emotion regulation skills:


Interpreting Emotions

We all have emotions, but there is a theory that there are only a few basic emotions while the rest is interpretation and evaluation.

You can work on your skills related to interpreting emotions by completing a writing challenge described here.


Describing Emotions

Emotions involve action urges, prompts to perform certain behaviors. These urges are not part of the emotion but can feel like they are. There is often a prompting event, followed by interpretation, body changes in response to the emotions, and action urges.

This can lead to an effective or dysfunctional expression of emotions, which can have a wide range of consequences. To work on describing emotions, try to describe the qualities of your emotions and pay attention to things that may interfere, like secondary emotions that spring from the original emotion.

Follow this link for more information on describing emotions.


Function of Emotions

Emotions have three major functions in DBT:

  1. They communicate to and influence others;
  2. They organize and motivate action, and;
  3. They can be self-validating.

You can learn about the function of emotions by answering questions like “What are some examples of situations where your expressions of emotion were misread?” and “Can you think of some times when you misread the emotions of someone else?”

See this page for more information.


Reducing Vulnerability

We are all vulnerable to negative emotions, but we can build our skills related to reducing vulnerability. You can keep track of the factors that affect your physical and mental well-being, like your diet, any mood-altering drugs, sleep, and exercise.

Refer to these skills in the emotion regulation module for more information.


Paying Attention to Positives

Increasing positive emotions can be an effective method for dealing with difficult emotions. To build this skill, focus on the positive experiences you have throughout the day (short-term experiences) and the bigger, more impactful ones (long-term experiences).

Focus on building and maintaining positive relationships, and give mindfulness a try to savor positive experiences.


Letting Go of Painful Emotions

On the flipside of savoring the positive, letting go of the negative also has a place in emotion regulation. While accepting that pain happens is healthy, dwelling on negative emotions is dysfunctional.

Practice observing your emotions, describing and accepting them but not allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by them.

See this page for more information on letting go.


Opposite to Emotion Action

This technique is used to change painful emotions that are harmful rather than helpful. It is not about suppressing our emotions, but accepting the emotion and using it to take a different action.

To practice this technique, list some examples of when you have acted opposite to your current emotion. Describe a situation in which it is not appropriate to act opposite to your emotion to help you learn about the difference between each situation.

Check out this handout for more information.


Certification Possibilities & Courses

Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a recognized treatment that is well supported by the evidence. There are many ways to learn about applying DBT, but getting certified is a great option. There are courses and trainings for both individuals interested in practicing DBT and for therapists and other mental health professionals who wish to apply DBT in their work.


For Therapists and Other Mental Health Professionals

Dr. Linehan’s Behavioral Tech Research Institute provides information on Dialectical Behavior Therapy certification for therapists. The certification is available through the DBT-Linehan Board of Certification and requires the following:

  • A graduate degree in a mental health-related field from a regionally accredited institution of higher education;

  • A mental health practitioner license;

  • A minimum of 40 didactic training hours specific to DBT Clinical experience with DBT (at least three clients);

  • DBT team experiences (at least 12 months of preparation and current participation on a DBT team);

  • DBT skills knowledge/experience;

  • You must have read the Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder by Marsha Linehan, completed all the homework assignments in the manual, and taught or participated in all modules of skill training;

  • Successful pass of exam based on the Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder by Marsha Linehan;

  • Letter of recommendation from your team leader;

  • Work product demonstration (videotapes of three consecutive live therapy sessions);

  • Mindfulness experience (at least one of the following: a mindfulness retreat, formal practice community participation, formally a student of a recognized Zen/contemplative teacher, or at least one formal training in mindfulness).

You can also become certified through the Dialectical Behavior Therapy National Certification and Accreditation Association (DBTNCAA). This allows you to list a specialized certification in DBT when you apply to Health Care Providers and HMO networks.


What is DBT’s Role in Mindfulness?

What is DBT's Role in MindfulnessMindfulness can be practiced whether you are participating in Dialectical Behavior Therapy treatment or not, and DBT skills involve mindfulness among many others.

While DBT and mindfulness are not synonymous, they are certainly linked.

DBT is a therapy based on identifying, describing, and modifying thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness has clear applicability in this therapy, through its ability to help practitioners to become more aware of their feelings, thoughts, impulses, and behaviors (Bray, 2013A).

One description of the benefit of mindfulness in Dialectical Behavior Therapy is that it provides the individual with the ability to take control of the mind instead of having the mind control the individual.

Practicing mindfulness helps the individual in DBT to direct their attention to observing, describing, and participating in a nonjudgmental way, which enhances the individual’s skills and leads to improved ability to focus on the positive, let go of the negative, and regulate emotions.

As we’ve said before, mindfulness is an extremely useful skill for individuals dealing with difficult emotions or situations, but it can be an even more effective tool for people struggling with a diagnosis.


A Take-Home Message

The intention of this piece was to provide an overview of Dialectical Behavior Therapy and outline the skills and tools that can help you or your clients to address emotion regulation issues. I hope it has met this goal, and that you know much more about Dialectical Behavior Therapy than you did when you started!

I hope you also keep in mind that the skills involved in DBT are applicable for those that are not suffering from a diagnosed mental health issue as well. Skills like mindfulness, focusing on the positive, letting go of the negative, and accepting the reality of your situation have clear benefits for everyone, not just those who are in the midst of suffering.

Have you tried DBT? Have you applied DBT with your clients? As always, please let us know about your experiences in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our 3 Mindfulness Exercises for free.

If you wish to learn more, Mindfulness X© is our 8-module mindfulness training package for practitioners which contains all the materials you’ll need to not only enhance your mindfulness skills but also learn how to deliver a science-based mindfulness training to your clients, students or employees.

  • Bray, S. (2013A). Core mindfulness in Dialectical Behavior Therapy. GoodTherapy. Retrieved from http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/core-mindfulness-dialectical-behavior-therapy-0215134
  • Bray, S. (2013B). Emotion regulation in Dialectical Behavior Therapy. GoodTherapy. Retrieved from www.goodtherapy.org/blog/emotion-regulation-dialectical-behavior-therapy-dbt-0318135
  • Dietz, L. (2012). DBT skills list. DBT Self Help. Retrieved from www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/dbt_skills_list.html
  • Grohol, J. (2016). What’s the difference Between CBT and DBT? Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/whats-the-difference-between-cbt-and-dbt/ Linehan Institute
  • Psych Central. (2016). An overview of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/an-overview-of-dialectical-behavior-therapy/
  • Tartakovsky, M. (2015A). 3 DBT skills everyone can benefit from. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/08/28/3-dbt-skills-everyone-can-benefit-from/
  • Tartakovsky, M. (2015B). What it really means to practice radical acceptance. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/10/04/what-it-really-means-to-practice-radical-acceptance/
  • The Linehan Institute. (n.d.). Linehan Institute. Retrieved from http://www.linehaninstitute.org/about-Linehan.php

About the Author

Courtney Ackerman, MA, is a graduate of the positive organizational psychology and evaluation program at Claremont Graduate University. She is currently working as a researcher for the State of California and her professional interests include survey research, wellbeing in the workplace, and compassion.


  1. Eileen R.

    Thank you for providing this information.

    This sums up the group therapy session I have just graduated from! Modalities were based from Marsha’s core theories; it is alot of skills to practice.

    Courtney, everything you wrote on this page IS TRUE, well written for any level audience. Well done.

    Radical Acceptance, and Emotional identification is THE HARDEST part of BPD and DBT. I find it hard now to identify why I am in an “emotional crisis”, since I want to “Name it, to Tame it”. I really can’t identify why I become so deeply emotional (rage, crying, worthless…) but the emotions are EXTREME. I can’t identify what I was so emotional about, why I became so emotional in the first place ONCE I GET CAUGHT IN “THE DARK HOLE” as my husband refers to my “emotional crises”.

    Just thought I would share my own personal experience; FYI I am an ongoing work in progress. Still have many ups and downs; however I can reflect on these events (usually AFTER the fact, but LIVE AND LEARN).

  2. Emily

    Super frustrting that it says “We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our 3 Mindfulness Exercises for free.” but you enter your information and then it tells you it cost $27.00. Why the false advertising…why say free just to get another person email to spam?

    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Emily,

      My apologies! Please try visiting this link to access the free downloads. The three exercises are definitely free! But if there’s a link in the text that tries to point you toward a paid resources, please let us know where it is so we can correct this 🙂

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  3. sufferer

    Very simple mind exercises for people everywhere and not just for those who SUFFER from BPD.
    However, my experience with therapists and BPD, has led me to the belief that it takes one to know one. No one can truly understand what Borderline feels like without experiencing an episode for themselves.
    I’m not sure how working an acronym can stop the intensity. Also, most people with BPD also have other personality disorders and have had tremendous traumas that have filled years of their lives up with confusion, pain, humiliation, loneliness and fear.
    Therapists MUST be able to withstand the emotion irregularities that come up with sharing all past experiences. Those never go away. Only in the effort to push ALL memories away seem to work. My memories are my life. My whole life needs to be thought away. Therapists cannot handle BPD and always seem annoyed, stop seeing us, or try to tell us “use a skill”. Doesn’t always help when I’m banging my head against a wall and screaming, I want to die at the top of my lungs. Then it just all goes away and I’m left alone and broken. Again and again and again and again……..
    Nothing will ever take it away and MAYBE Borderline is a new normal for some people. We already naturally try to stop it all costs. We try DBT because there is literally NOTHING else besides death that will ever put an end to the pain caused by countless others.

    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi there,

      I’m very sorry to read about the challenges you’ve faced with BPD and trauma. Indeed, the tools provided throughout this article are no substitute for the support of an experienced professional, who can work with you one-on-one to safely explore treatment options.

      You can find a directory of licensed therapists here (and note that you can change the country setting in the top-right corner). You’ll also find that there are a range of filters to help you drill down to the type of support you need (e.g., trauma).

      Likewise, if you are in a crisis, please call the following number in your respective country:

      USA: National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255;
      UK: Samaritans hotline at 116 123;
      The Netherlands: Netherlands Suicide Hotline at 09000767;
      France: Suicide écoute at 01 45 39 40 00;
      Australia: Lifeline at 13 11 14
      Germany: Telefonseelsorge at 0800 111 0 111 for Protestants, 0800 111 0 222 for Catholics, and 0800 111 0 333 for children and youth.

      For a list of other suicide prevention websites, phone numbers, and resources, see this website.

      Please know that there are people out there who care and that there are treatments that can help.

      – Nicole | Community Manager

    • Mandy Kloppers

      Hi, I can relate to your account. It can be challenging sometimes for therapists to truly understand the intense unbearable emotions that emerge for those with BPD. I am a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist who had a traumatic childhood and gained a degree in Psychology to better understand the dynamics. There are many useful strategies that have really worked for me. The impact of BPD can be managed and it becomes easier as you get older too. DBT is a fantastic treatment and will still help those with BPD ( now renamed EUPD) even if the therapist hasn’t experienced the same level of trauma.
      I have written about my personal struggles and the value of DBT of you are interested…

  4. Jowana Abou Chakra

    thank you a lot , very helpful , and cover all the DBT SIDES

  5. Scott Smith


    I am a family medicine MD that has started using ketamine treatment for patients with resistant depression. I am seeing a subset of patients that have a drastic decrease in depressive symptoms, but anxiety/emotional dysregulation expands to fill the void. Thank you so much for the website. I am going to start marching through the DBT skills workbook with them!

  6. Arlene R Brennan

    I am not a therapist but have taken training to be a coach. I would like to take a simple course in using DBT with eating issues. Do you have such an on-line course or can you suggest where I can find one?

    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Arlene,

      I’d suggest doing a search for available courses on APT’s website or reaching out to them to see whether they know of anything suitable.

      Hope this helps!

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  7. Ahmed

    Many thanks for your elucidation,though I must admit that if have included Zen then I urge you to include aspects of Islam with particular reference to listening to the recitation of the QUR’AN , which is available on the internet.

    • Kelly

      Zen is mentioned because the founder of DBT, Dr. Marsha Lenahan, incorporated cognitive behavioral therapy with Zen Buddhism mindfulness to create DBT. Listening to the Qur’an is not usually soothing or relaxing to those who do not understand what is being said.

  8. Nolan Fontillas

    woh I am pleased to find this website through google.

  9. Richard Nicholas

    Great article. I was interested in taking the MOOC DBT course that you have linked, but when I go to the link, there is no way to access the course. Any ideas on this, or another resource with which I could access an structured online DBT course?
    Many thanks,

  10. Jason Rohman

    Great comprehensive article. I’m a drug and alcohol counselor, and my clients love DBT skills. They know more than I do, and I came to this article for more info. Thanks for the book recommendations. I’ll pick one up and educate myself, so I can help myself and my clients.

  11. Derek McDoogle

    I did not know the fact about how DBT was created for the treatment of individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts. My cousin is going through a hard time since he lost his wife and his daughter does not talk to him anymore. I appreciate you helping me learn more about this mental disorder and how there are many ways to help treat it. https://cbtcalifornia.com/

  12. Pamela Rogers

    Your article says, For example, this course from http://www.coursesites.com offers a massive open online course (MOOC) that teaches students to define, apply, and discuss the four module skills. It includes over 10 hours of skill training videos, homework, discussion forums, quizzes, and diary cards to complete, and is based on Dr. Linehan’s skills training manual mentioned earlier.
    If you sign up , and ask about course from their on line chat, the representative says you must contact instructor. What does this mean?

    • roni joy

      I encountered the same problem. How do we get invited to the course by the instructor?

      • Annelé Venter

        Unfortunately, we do not provide support for other websites, but only mention them as a possible avenue to explore for further education. Apologies for not being able to assist.

        • Nancy

          Thanks Annele. We understand that you do not provide support for other website. The author Courtney E. Ackerman provided a link (https://coursesites.com/?course_id=_400442_1 ) to a DBT course BUT you actually need to know the organisation & instructor first to register otherwise the link is useless. Are you or the author able to provide the organisation & instructor for this link?

          • Annelé Venter

            Hi Nancy
            I just spent an unproductive half an hour chatting with their support to get the correct URL, and even they could not assist us. It is quite likely the course is no longer available, which is why they cannot trace it. I will remove the reference to them. My apologies for not being able to assist with this, it seemed like an interesting course to do.

  13. Natasha

    I registered for http://www.coursesites.com. It said that you can only use the site if you are registered by an instructor. Can you tell me how you accessed the DBT section?

  14. A. Dykema

    I would like to learn more about EMDR for treatment of Complex PTSD and the correlation with TBI. Thank you

  15. Shannon Gold

    What a comprehensive and helpful resource! I will definitely be implementing it into my practice with youth. Thank you!

  16. Tristan Scifo

    This is brilliant Courtney. A great resource for me and my wife.

  17. Dave Anderson

    That is really interesting that DBT is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy. It would be good to have my son go to this type of therapy to help him in his cognitive processes. Maybe it would be good to talk to the doctor and see if we can set it up sometime soon.

  18. Jennifer

    The recommended app is not available for Android. Do you have an android alternative you would recommend?

  19. Alex Conant

    Hello I am looking for this manual but the link no longer works. Do you have another contact to obtain it? It is really needed. Thanks so much!
    Modified DBT Group Therapy Manual for Adolescents and Young Adults Experiencing Substance Misuse

  20. Dr. Cheryl Mathews

    Very helpful and comprehensive, thank you!

  21. kathleen hemrich

    This is so thorough and easy to read. Thank you! I am writing my paper on DBT for one of my classes in Mental Health Counseling where I will graduate as a CPC ini July of 2018.

    • Courtney Ackerman

      Thanks for your comment, Kathleen! That’s so good to hear that you found it both thorough AND easy to read. Congratulations on your upcoming graduation, and good luck in your last semester!

  22. Lesley Bainbridge

    This resource on DBT is clear, concise and I’m definitely going to implement some of it in my practice . The explanation of what dbt is the best I’ve come across . Thank you for including this in the weekly newsletter ; I’m grateful to have stumbled upon your site last year – awesome!

    • Courtney Ackerman

      Thank you for your comment Lesley. I’m so glad you enjoyed this piece!


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