Understanding The Differences Between CBT And DBT: Which One Is Right For You?

Mental disorders impact men and women differently. Some mental disorders are more pronounced among women, including depression and anxiety. Many mental health disorders are specific to women only due to hormonal changes, especially during and post-pregnancy. These include perinatal depression, postnatal depression, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.

Psychotherapy has been explored as an effective treatment method for several mental illnesses. It helps restructure negative thoughts and patterns into healthier behaviors. If you are considering therapy, you will encounter many therapy types, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) which are widely used. However, people often confuse the two treatments due to their similar names. This guide will help you understand the differences between the two to decipher which one is the right option for you.

What Is CBT?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a psychological treatment that helps patients understand how their thoughts and feelings influence behaviors. It is based on the idea that what we feel (our emotions), how we think (our cognition) and how we act (behaviors) all interact together.

The main idea of CBT is to recognize underlying negative beliefs that lead to problems and then work to correct and restructure these false beliefs. CBT relies on a positive client-therapist relationship. The therapist then weans off, allowing the patient to take control of their problems, develop healthy coping strategies, and essentially become their own therapist.

Guiding Features of CBT

  • CBT uses structure to direct treatment for many mental health disorders. The therapist will choose treatment methods for each session based on the client’s individual goals. The idea is to choose restructuring techniques that will prove most beneficial for the client.
  • Since CBT believes thoughts, feelings and behaviors are linked, it encourages patients to use cognition and rationale to react to situations instead of letting emotions drive actions.
  • CBT is hinged on a collaborative patient-therapist relationship, so it’s vital that the patient can trust the therapist.
  • CBT is aimed at making patients self-sufficient. Therefore, CBT is limited to a certain time period, and after that, the patient starts to apply the CBT therapies themselves.

What Is DBT?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a specialized type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that is aimed at reducing the extreme emotional responses felt by patients with mental health disorders. DBT teaches patients to identify unhealthy patterns that cause them distress and then combine them with more productive, healthier ideas.

Instead of trying to alter the patient’s thoughts and behaviors entirely, it focuses on helping them achieve a more balanced worldview. The therapist works with the client to mitigate the highs and lows caused by inner turmoil and then teaches them more effective skills for managing these extremes.

Differences Between CBT and DBT

While DBT falls under the parameter of CBT, there are clear differences between the two. Understanding and identifying what separates the two will help women decide which therapy treatment is best suited to their needs. The main reason behind this is that not all mental health disorders react to treatments the same way.


The timeframe for CBT is usually more limited than DBT. CBT therapists establish certain goals with the patient in mind and then work towards achieving these goals. Once the client is able to cope with the problems better, the therapist can wean them off therapy. CBT sessions usually last for 6-20 weeks. DBT, on the other hand, is a more comprehensive therapy treatment. A DBT therapist will look at the entire picture ad help clients work through several issues. DBT typically lasts for 6 months and, in some instances, can linger for years as well.


CBT is a highly goal-oriented treatment plan. The therapist sets goals tailored to each patient and then works towards them. The overall aim of CBT is to help patients identify and overcome negative thought patterns, replacing them with healthier behaviors. DBT also has goals, but they aren’t as direct. DBT has a broader worldview and is focused on helping clients accept themselves, manage their emotions, and mitigate destructive behaviors.


The philosophy and techniques used for CBT and DBT are also very different. CBT is more focused on logic, and teaches the patient to use critical thinking to approach life. DBT, on the other hand, focuses more on emotional and social aspects. DBT uses mindful philosophies to allow patients to accept themselves and their surroundings.

Some techniques used in CBT include:

  • Goal setting: the therapist encourages and allows the patient to differentiate between short-term and long-term goals, equipping them to set goals for themselves.
  • Identification of negative thoughts and patterns: CBT centers on the relationship between thoughts, feelings and actions. CBT uses techniques to help patients understand how their negative perceptions shape their behaviors.
  • Problem-Solving: CBT aims to make the patient self-sufficient and independent. The therapist works with the patient to identify and solve issues that stem from different life stressors. With CBT, clients learn coping strategies to apply to real-life situations.

Some techniques/modules used in DBT include:

  • Mindfulness: DBT forces the client to focus on the present. This treatment helps people who have an unstable sense of self and have a hard living in the moment.
  • Regulate Emotions: DBT focuses on emotional regulation and management. This treatment is effective for those who experience extreme emotions. They will learn how to separate emotions from behaviors.
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness: DBT teaches people to focus on interpersonal relationships, allowing them to communicate in a respectable manner.

Which Is Better For You?

CBT focuses on using logical reasoning to improve problematic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, while DBT is more hinged on regulating extreme emotions. CBT is more beneficial in treating depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD), management of phobias, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), while DBT would work better in the treatment of borderline personality disorder, substance use disorders, addiction disorders, self-harm, bipolar disorder, and several eating disorders. Find the right inpatient DBT or CBT therapy.

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