What is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) for bipolar disorder?

Sheri Van Dijk
Psychiatry
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a treatment that was created by Marsha Linehan in 1993 and was the first therapy that was proven to be effective in treating an illness called borderline personality disorder. This personality disorder shares many symptoms with bipolar disorder, including problems regulating emotions, impulsivity, unstable relationships, and unhealthy or self-destructive coping skills. In fact, these two illnesses can look so similar to each other that defining the boundary between them "has been particularly controversial, given the extent to which the symptoms of these two disorders overlap." Some authors have proposed that the difference between the two illnesses is only a matter of degree, and that borderline personality disorder should actually be considered to be part of the bipolar spectrum.

So if these illnesses are so much alike and DBT has been researched extensively and found to be helpful for the treatment of borderline personality disorder, it only makes sense that DBT will also be helpful in treating bipolar disorder. Even if the two illnesses are not one and the same, the many shared symptoms and the fact that there is a high rate of co-occurrence of the two disorders (meaning people diagnosed with one often also have the other) suggests that DBT is an effective treatment for bipolar.

Since its beginnings, DBT has also been successfully used to treat many other illnesses, such as other personality disorders, depression, substance abuse and dependence, eating disorders, and self-harming and suicidal behaviors. People with bipolar disorder can also face these problems, and DBT can help.

There has been only one published study on the use of DBT for bipolar disorder. The authors of the study reported that the results were positive, with the participants exhibiting significant improvement in suicidality, self-harming behavior, regulation of emotions, and symptoms of depression.
The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Bipolar Disorder: Using DBT to Regain Control of Your Emotions and Your Life (New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook)

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The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Bipolar Disorder: Using DBT to Regain Control of Your Emotions and Your Life (New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook)

Even if you've just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it's likely that you've been living with it for a long time. You've probably already developed your own ways of coping with recurring...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.