What’s the Difference Between CBT and DBT?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) are distinct forms of psychotherapy. CBT focuses on changing negative thought patterns to improve mental health, while DBT emphasizes emotional regulation and mindfulness to manage intense emotions. Explore their differences and find out which might suit your needs.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) are two distinct forms of psychotherapy with unique approaches. CBT primarily focuses on addressing negative thought patterns and behaviors, aiming to change them to improve mental health.

On the other hand, DBT places a strong emphasis on emotional regulation and mindfulness to help individuals manage intense emotions and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

This article will explore the key differences between CBT and DBT, helping readers understand which approach might be most suitable for various mental health concerns. 

Discussion on the Differences Between DBT and CBT

What is CBT?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, commonly known as CBT, is a structured form of psychotherapy designed to address negative thought patterns and behaviors to enhance mental well-being. Through CBT, individuals collaborate with a therapist to explore the interconnection between thoughts, emotions, and actions. This therapy is typically brief, spanning 10-16 sessions, and aims to achieve specific goals.

Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of CBT in treating various mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and phobias.

Read more about the different psychiatric treatment programs that we at Vive Treatment Centers offer.

In CBT sessions, individuals receive education about their specific condition and acquire practical skills to manage symptoms. Therapists assist in identifying and modifying cognitive distortions, which are distorted thoughts contributing to mental health challenges.

What is DBT?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a form of psychotherapy developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan with a focus on emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Originally intended for individuals with borderline personality disorder, DBT has been adapted to address various mental health challenges such as self-destructive behaviors, suicidal ideation, mood disorders, substance-use disorders, eating disorders, and PTSD.

The core objective of DBT is to equip individuals with skills to manage stress more effectively in their daily lives. This therapy approach aims to modify harmful coping mechanisms, enhance emotional regulation, and improve interpersonal connections.

Through DBT, individuals learn to recognize and alter negative thought patterns while acquiring healthier strategies to cope with challenging emotions and circumstances. Typically, DBT programs incorporate individual therapy sessions, group skills training, and phone coaching. The duration of treatment may vary, ranging from targeted support programs to comprehensive year-long interventions.

Key Differences Between CBT and DBT

CBT and DBT vary in their theoretical foundations, primary focus, session structure, and therapeutic techniques employed.

Theoretical foundation

One key distinction between CBT and DBT lies in their foundational theories and core principles. CBT is grounded in cognitive theory, which highlights the influence of negative thought patterns on emotions and behaviors. Through the identification and challenge of these distortions, individuals can work towards replacing them with more positive and adaptive thoughts and actions.

In contrast, DBT is founded on dialectical theory, which underscores the importance of self-acceptance alongside the pursuit of change. It aims to equip individuals with skills for managing emotions and enhancing interpersonal interactions. DBT promotes a balanced view that acknowledges the coexistence of multiple truths and the necessity of navigating between seemingly conflicting ideas in life.

While both therapies seek to enhance well-being, CBT primarily focuses on addressing specific thoughts and behaviors, whereas DBT takes a more comprehensive approach by targeting emotions, relationships, and overall mindset.


CBT primarily centers on recognizing and modifying negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to emotional distress. It’s a structured and goal-oriented therapy aimed at equipping individuals with practical strategies to overcome obstacles.

The core of CBT lies in understanding the interconnectedness of thoughts, emotions, and actions, emphasizing how altering one component can have a positive ripple effect on the others.

Conversely, DBT concentrates on assisting individuals, particularly those with borderline personality disorder, in managing severe emotional dysregulation. By integrating CBT techniques with mindfulness and acceptance strategies, DBT aims to help individuals cope with intense emotions and impulsive behaviors.

This therapy focuses on imparting skills for distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and enhancing interpersonal relationships. While addressing maladaptive thought patterns, DBT places a significant emphasis on validation and self-acceptance throughout the process of personal growth.

DBT's and CBT's Focus on Mastering Emotional Regulation


CBT and DBT differ significantly in their structural approach to therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy typically follows a short-term, individual therapy model. Sessions are usually held once a week for 6 to 20 weeks, depending on the client’s needs and progress. The structure is focused and goal-oriented, with each session building on the last.

In contrast, Dialectical Behavior Therapy has a more comprehensive structure. It combines individual therapy sessions with group skills training, usually over a longer period of at least six months to a year. The individual sessions in DBT focus on applying skills to personal challenges, while the group sessions teach specific modules of skills. This dual approach allows for both personalized treatment and peer support. DBT also often includes phone coaching between sessions for crisis management, a feature not typically found in standard CBT. This more intensive structure of DBT is designed to provide ongoing support and skill reinforcement for individuals dealing with complex, chronic issues.


CBT and DBT utilize distinct techniques tailored to address specific aspects of mental health. CBT primarily focuses on cognitive restructuring, aiming to identify and modify distorted thinking patterns that contribute to emotional distress. Through behavioral interventions, individuals are encouraged to engage in activities that challenge negative beliefs and promote positive changes in their lives.

On the other hand, DBT techniques center on emotion regulation and acceptance. Individuals learn to acknowledge and validate their emotions while developing skills to manage intense feelings effectively. Mindfulness practices are incorporated in DBT to help individuals stay present and gain a balanced perspective on their experiences. Additionally, DBT places a strong emphasis on enhancing interpersonal relationships through techniques like assertiveness training and conflict resolution.

Role of Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness is a key aspect of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), serving as a tool for individuals to ground themselves in the present moment and cultivate non-judgmental awareness. By practicing mindfulness, individuals can focus on their thoughts, feelings, and sensations without reacting impulsively, leading to improved emotional regulation skills and decreased impulsivity.

DBT places a significant emphasis on mindfulness as a fundamental part of therapy, encouraging individuals to develop a heightened sense of self-awareness to better recognize and manage their emotions.

In contrast to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which may incorporate mindfulness techniques for addressing anxiety and stress, DBT prioritizes mindfulness as a core element of treatment. Through regular mindfulness practices, individuals can observe their internal experiences without judgment, fostering emotional balance and reducing impulsive reactions to distressing situations.

Final Thoughts From Vive Treatment Centers on the Differences Between CBT and DBT

While both CBT and DBT can effectively address negative thought patterns and behaviors, they differ in their approach and focus.

If you’re struggling with severe emotional dysregulation, DBT’s emphasis on mindfulness and distress tolerance might be more beneficial.

However, if you’re looking to modify specific negative thoughts and behaviors, CBT’s structured, goal-oriented approach could be the right fit.

Ultimately, the choice between CBT and DBT depends on your individual needs and therapeutic goals.

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