What happens in DBT group therapy?

DBT group therapy isn’t like other types of group therapy. You don’t have to sit in a circle and listen to other participants tell their story before sharing yours. Neither do you help others process their emotions while gaining support for your feelings, right here in our DBT clinic.

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Most of the processing and support during dialectical behavioral therapy is experienced during the one-to-one sessions you have in private with your therapist. DBT group therapy is more like a class or workshop than typical group therapy. 

During each DBT group session, you’ll practice new skills with others, helping you develop them before you try them out in the real world. By learning practical ways to approach your life, you’ll acquire the tools you need to create a healthier, happier lifestyle. 

You’re not required to share any details of your personal life during group therapy sessions. Anything personal you tell others in the group is entirely up to you and should only be included if it’s relevant to the skills you’re learning and developing.

An average DBT group therapy session

Each DBT group therapy session follows a structured pattern and is divided into three sections:

  1. Mindfulness practice
  2. Homework review
  3. Learning a new skill

Here’s an overview of what each section looks like so you’ll be prepared for what you’ll experience at your first DBT group therapy class.

Mindfulness practice

Every session starts with mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is one of the foundations of dialectical behavioral therapy and through group sessions, you get the chance to practice it each week.

The way in which you’ll practice mindfulness varies between each session. From guided meditation and silent meditation to mindful eating and mindful coloring, you’ll have the chance to practice being mindful in a number of different environments.

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Homework review

Unlike the homework you probably remember from school, DBT homework is simple and therapeutic. At the end of each group session, you’ll be given a step-by-step guide to practicing the skill you just learned. Your homework is to go out into the real world and practice the skill.

During the homework review section of group DBT, your therapist will check in with you to make sure you completed the homework. If you have any struggles or questions, they’ll be able to answer them during this stage.

If one week you’re unable to complete your homework, you won’t be punished. Instead, the therapist running the group will help you determine what got in the way, so you’ll be more successful next week. 

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Learning a new skill

The last stage of each DBT group therapy session is the most important: learning a new effective DBT skill. Through these new habits and practices, you can move away from harmful, ineffective habits and develop healthier routines which help you achieve better results.

The skills you’ll learn in DBT group therapy are divided into 4 modules:

  • Mindfulness
  • Distress tolerance
  • Emotional regulation
  • Interpersonal effectiveness


Although mindfulness is the starting point for each group therapy session, it’s also an important skill that requires regular practice to maintain. Because of this, some workshops will focus on different mindfulness techniques and how they can help you improve your life.

Mindfulness in DBT focuses on paying attention purposefully in the present moment. It’s an effective way to avoid mindless, habitual thought processes and acting in ways which can get you into trouble.

Have you ever found yourself daydreaming when you swore you would focus on your work? Or arguing with a family member when you made a commitment to get along? Mindfulness can help you acknowledge these mistakes and encourage you to make a conscious effort to address them.

Mindfulness can also help you if you have problems with depression, anxiety and suffering. It can help you understand the importance of living in the present instead of the past, focusing on the emotions you’re currently experiencing, instead of feeling hurt from the past or worried about the future.

Distress tolerance

The skills you develop while focusing on this module help you manage difficult feelings without making matters worse. Sometimes it’s impossible to immediately change a situation and you need to ride out your feelings until they pass. Distress tolerance provides you with the emotional tools you need to wait it out.

For example, you might feel angry when your partner comes home late after they promised they’d be on time. Even though you know it will end up in a big fight, you may have the urge to yell at them. Instead of giving into your negative urges, distress tolerance will help you manage your angry feelings without lashing out.

Distress tolerance isn’t about bottling up your feelings. Instead, it teaches you to hit pause and talk to others about how they make you feel when you’re more calm.

Emotion regulation

It’s normal to feel confused by your emotions or wonder if anyone else feels the same way you do. Through emotion regulation, you’ll learn to understand the cause of your emotions and why some painful emotions seem to appear out of thin air.

This part of DBT group therapy will help you reduce the painful emotions you want to avoid, while increasing the pleasant emotions you enjoy. Most importantly, when strong emotions arise, you’ll feel a sense of control, instead of feeling like your emotions are controlling you.

Interpersonal effectiveness

During interpersonal effectiveness modules, you’ll learn different ways of approaching relationships.

This part of DBT therapy is similar to certain parts of assertiveness training courses. You’ll develop the ability to determine how you should communicate with others in different circumstances, from romantic relationships to work relationships. 

In this stage, you’ll also discover how to assertively and politely ask for what you want, as well as how to say ‘no’ without ruining the relationships you’ve worked hard to build.

Getting started with group DBT therapy

From problems with substance abuse to the inability to maintain healthy relationships, DBT therapy can help you overcome many troubling issues which won’t get better on their own. While the concept of opening up to others and leaving yourself vulnerable in a group setting might sound like a hurdle too big to tackle, it’s important you understand everyone else in the group is in the same position as you are.

Consider starting off small, with something more comfortable and accessible, such as an online DBT therapy. As you gain confidence and understanding of how the sessions work, you’ll be able to progress to in-person DBT group therapy and get on the road to building a better life. 

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. If you are in a crisis or any other person may be in danger,  these resources can provide you with immediate help:
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988
24 Hour Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1.800.273.8255
Crisis Text Line Text TALK to 741741