DBT, For Therapists

What’s The Difference Between CBT and DBT

Therapy is already a scary concept for most people. It takes a lot of strength to decide that you want support and to reach out. Then they ask, “what type of therapy do you want?”  Next comes the long lists of letters and acronyms. There is:

  • CBT
  • DBT
  • ACT
  • EMDR
  • ABFT
  • PICT
  • EFT
  • CPT
  • ERP
  • IFS
  • …and the list could keep going!

The alphabet soup of therapy styles is confusing and overwhelming. This can often prevent people looking for support due to not knowing what is best for them. Don’t let this be the case for you!

Two of the most prominent and common therapy styles right now, and especially at Montgomery County Counseling Center, are CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and DBT (Dialectic Behavioral Therapy).

Here is a quick distinction to help you understand the differences and similarities between CBT and DBT

Origins of CBT and DBT

CBT was developed in the 1950s and 1960s to focus on emotional regulation and mindfulness.

DBT grew from CBT in the 1980s. It adds modules focusing on distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness. 

Who Benefits from CBT vs DBT?

CBT works best with anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

DBT works best with pervasive mood dysregulation which includes borderline personality disorders, chronic suicidality, and simply by developmental nature, teens.

Both have been show to be particularly effective at treating depressive disorders, eating disorders, substance disorders.

What is the Focus, Process, and Goals of CBT and DBT?

infographic about CBT: thoughts, emotions, and feelings all impact each other. Begin dialectical behavior therapy DBT in rockville, MD at Montgomery County Counseling Center 20852

CBT mainly looks at how your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors affect each other. You learn how to change any of those aspects in order to change the others. CBT components include identifying ineffective thinking patterns, modifying behaviors, and mindfulness- the practice of exploring moods in the present. The goals is to improve self-awareness by developing skills to identify, challenge, and change cognitive distortions in order to reduce symptoms that are causing problems in life.

DBT takes that and builds upon it. It focuses on the important balance between both acceptance and change of thoughts, emotions and behaviors. By teaching HOW to practice both acceptance (mindfulness and distress tolerance) and change (emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness), clients can develop skills in order to decrease destructive behaviors and thinking traps and increase satisfactions towards a life worth living.  

Common Elements of Both CBT and DBT

  • Both require a specific type positive of rapport between client and therapist
  • Each are goal-oriented
  • They focus more on the present and future than the past
  • Both explore the elements that lead us towards ours behaviors and patterns

Key Questions to Ask Yourself When Deciding Where to Start

Do you notice yourself saying negative things about yourself? Do you have see situations through all-or-nothings lens. Are these things causing inner turmoil but externally you are fairly stable? If so try CBT.

The above applies to you AND you specifically get triggered by, or cause problems to, your relationships. Does it seem like you swing between crisis and emotional volatility and stability with repressed emotions. When these things impact your external world, including relationships, try DBT.

If both CBT and DBT sound like they might work for you, give one a try for a couple months. See if it works and if it doesn’t you are always able to change to the other. Plus, regardless of your presentation, these tools are helpful for anyone and everyone to have a general understanding of. 

You can also decide based on developing a relationship with a therapist since that is essential to both CBT and DBT!

Meet with any of our amazing clinicians to explore which modality feels like a fit for you. We happily offer free 15-minute consultation calls for all inquiries!


About The Author

Annie Bertran, CBT therapist

Annie Bertran, LCSW-C is a licensed certified social worker-clinical and Therapist at Montgomery County Counseling Center in Rockville, MD. Annie obtained Bachelor’s degree in Social Work with a minor in Psychology from University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She then went on to earn her Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Annie has extensive training in Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). She has worked across several settings over the past decade and has extensive experience with adolescents and young people transitioning into adulthood.


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