What is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy?

It is known as DBT, and is a treatment to help you to create a balance between making positive changes and accepting who you are. One of the goals is to create this balance in a way that best helps you.

DBT can help you to…………

  • gain a more balanced understanding of your problem behaviours
  • tolerate and more effectively deal with intense and painful emotions and experiences
  • learn how to be more effective in your relationships with others
  • learn how to deal with conflict, to get what you want and need, and to say no to unwanted demands and requests
  • learn skills to tolerate distress.

Who can access DBT?

Full DBT program is offered to young people with difficulties regulating their emotions, alongside repeated self-harm, and are committed to the treatment. All young people admitted to the unit are invited to attend the DBT skills group to learn positive coping strategies to manage emotions, behaviour and relationships.

How does the DBT programme work?  

It consists of individual therapy and weekly attendance of a skills group session. We invite all young people to attend the skills group as it focuses on useful coping strategies.

Individual therapy generally takes place once a week and focuses on helping you to address problems in your life:

  • you complete a weekly diary card; this records how you feel, along with any urges to engage in, or actual incidents of self-harm or suicide attempts alongside any other relevant information
  • in each session, you and your therapist review the diary card and decide where to focus attention, this helps to understand any patterns and reasons for risky behaviours such as self-harm and finding more helpful solutions (all young people are assessed for their suitability).

The weekly skills group aims to: 

assist you to learn the skills needed to improve your life and reach your goals. It takes place in groups, generally led by two skills trainers.

The DBT modules taught within the skills training group are:

  1. Core mindfulness skills
  2. Interpersonal effectiveness skills
  3. Emotion regulation skills
  4. Distress tolerance skills
  5. Radical openness. 

1. Core mindfulness

This module focuses on learning to control your mind, rather than letting your mind control you.

You develop an understanding of two states of mind known as ‘reasonable mind’ and ‘emotional mind’ and develop the skills necessary to balance these two, to produce a third state of mind known as ‘wise mind’.

Developing wise mind provides you with the ability to make healthy decisions about your life based on both your rational thoughts and your emotions.

2. Interpersonal effectiveness

This module is about learning to manage your relationships with other people effectively.

The skills focus on ways of achieving your objectives with other people:

  • how to ask for what you want effectively
  • how to say no and have it taken seriously
  • how to maintain relationships and maintain self-esteem in your interactions with other people.

3. Emotion regulation

This module is for you to learn how to manage your emotions in an effective manner:

  • to develop skills to assist you in dealing with intense and painful emotions.
  • You will be taught how to make yourself less vulnerable to emotions through:
  • increasing pleasant events in your life
  • taking care of yourself
  • paying attention to your physical needs as well as your emotional need.

4. Distress tolerance

This module provides you with techniques to enable you to tolerate and survive a crisis, when you can’t easily change things in the moment.

Distress tolerance skills assist you to get through upsetting events, thoughts and feelings without making things worse.

You will learn how to survive a crisis by distracting yourself from painful experiences or by making the current moment better or more enjoyable.

5. Radical openness

This module is about being open to change.

It will help you understand patterns of avoidance and teach you to be open to new experiences, whilst not ignoring the past. 

What we expect from you?

Once committed to the DBT programme, young people will be expected to:

  • make an active commitment to completing the programme
  • attend the weekly skills training group
  • attend weekly one to one sessions with their individual therapist
  • complete a diary card and group ward work
  • follow the terms and conditions agreed within individual and skills group contracts
  • be willing to make difficult but healthy changes in your life.


Many thanks to the young people at The Westwood Centre.

This booklet is a result of their advice and ideas.


Leaflet reference:




Date last updated:

05 / 2017

Archive date:

05 / 2020