The Center for Eating Disorders Blog

Dialectical Behavior Therapy: PART I

What is a life worth living?  That is the essential question behind Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), the goal of which is to help individuals build a life that has meaning and worth, with a freedom from suffering.

DBT was originally developed by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., to treat individuals who engage in self-harm behavior, many of whom meet the diagnostic criteria for borderline personality disorder.   DBT represents a merging of therapeutic approaches, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Eastern therapuetic modalities. CBT which emphasizes one’s ability to change thoughts and behaviors,  has been criticized for not addressing emotional dysregulation (a difficulty with responding to emotions in the culturally accepted manner), often a significant problem for people with Eating Disorders (EDs).  Thus, in developing DBT, Linehan also integrated Eastern psychological and spiritual philosophies, including the practice of mindfulness, which provide for a heightened focus on acceptance (rather than change) and on the healthy regulation of difficult emotions.

Research has shown DBT to be effective in the treatment of borderline personality disorder, substance dependence, chronic life threatening behavior, and dissociative behaviors.  These are issues that often co-occur with EDs.  The research directly linking the utility of DBT for EDs is preliminary, but investigations have shown promising results for patients with Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder.

The Center for Eating Disorders utilizes DBT at all levels of care. The first three modules are introduced in our inpatient and partial hospitalization programs, while full coverage of all four modules is applied in our intensive outpatient program, as well as in individual therapy at all levels of care.  If you’d like to read more about the four modules of DBT, you can read our follow-up post, Dialectical Behavior Therapy: Part II.

The Center for Eating Disorders is now offering DBT group therapy on an outpatient basis.  For more information about these groups or any of our DBT programming, please call (410) 938-5252.


Linehan, M.M. (1993).  Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford Press.

Behavioral Tech, LLC. (1996-2009). What is DBT? Available at:

Written by Kristen Grasso, Psy.D, Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

Leave a Reply