What’s the difference between CBT and DBT?

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) are two types of psychotherapy that place great importance on talking. They both involve being open to a therapist about the challenges you face in your everyday life, with the goal of developing the skills you need to manage your symptoms on your own.


CBT begins by helping you learn more about your particular mental illness and the symptoms you experience as a result. After you’ve constructed a solid foundation you can build upon, your therapist will help you to develop the specific TIPP skills you need to manage your symptoms and improve your thoughts, behaviors, and feelings.

Stopping negative thought cycles

CBT helps you stop negative thought cycles from beginning by teaching you how situations, thoughts, physical feelings, emotions, and actions all influence each other. Here’s an example:

  • Thought: You believe your friends don’t really like you
  • Action: You avoid social situations so you don’t have to see your friends
  • Emotion: As a result, you feel isolated and lonely

It works by teaching you how to use the relationships between your thoughts, behaviors, and feelings to your advantage. By making a positive change in one area, you can enjoy positive results in all three zones.

For example, if you forced yourself to socialize with your friends on a regular basis, you would realize that they do like you (positively changing your thoughts) and as a result, feel happier and more connected to society (positively changing your emotions).

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is another technique used in CBT. It’s particularly effective for people with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and people with intense phobias. In these cases, simply discussing a situation is rarely effective. You need to learn to face your fears in a structured way.

To do this, your therapist will ask you to stay in a situation that causes you anxiety (at a level you can tolerate) for 1-2 hours. You need to repeat this action regularly until your anxiety level drops by half over an extended period of time.

When you don’t feel anxious about a certain thing anymore, you can move on to the next anxiety-inducing subject and repeat the previous steps.


DBT is a type of CBT that focuses more on the social and emotional aspects of therapy. It originally began as a treatment for BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) but has since been used to treat a wide range of illnesses, from depression and anxiety to trauma and eating disorders.

The primary difference between CBT and DBT is the way they approach relationships and validation. DBT teaches you that the feelings and thoughts you experience are real. It also encourages you to accept who you are, regardless of the difficulties and challenges you experience in everyday life.

The 6 main points of DBT >>

Radical acceptance >>

Individual therapy

During your one-to-one sessions with your therapist, you’ll develop a set of DBT skills to help you manage your symptoms. These skills are general and can help you improve many aspects of your life. DBT skills include:

  • Mindfulness: Helps you be more present and understand your thoughts and behaviors
  • Distress tolerance: Encourages you to manage stressful situations in a healthy way
  • Interpersonal effectiveness: Supports you to balance the priorities and demands in relationships
  • Emotional regulation: Teaches you how to identify harmful emotions and deal with them in an effective way

Group therapy

After you learn DBT skills in individual therapy, you get the chance to practice them in group therapy. Group DBT sessions are attended by others also having DBT therapy. Together, you can workshop common scenarios and practice the skills you learned with your counselor before trying them in the outside world.

Phone coaching

Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed or on the edge of making a bad choice, you can pick up the phone and call your DBT counselor. They’ll give you immediate advice to help you overcome your challenge in a safe, healthy way.

Find therapy DBT near me >>


As DBT is a subtype of CBT, there’s a lot of overlap between the two. Both therapies invite you to talk about your problems with the aim of better understanding and managing your behaviors and thoughts. 

DBT and CBT are different from many other types of psychotherapy because they’re both:

  • Pragmatic: They help identify the specific problems you face and solve them
  • Highly structured: Your therapist will ask you to talk about individual problems and set goals to help you overcome them
  • Focused on present problems: They’re both concerned about how you think and act in the present, instead of focusing on resolving issues in the past
  • Collaborative: Your counselor will work alongside you to discover solutions to your current problems


Despite both types of therapy sharing some characteristics, CBT and DBT also differ in specific ways:

  • Commitment: CBT is often a short-term solution to a single problem, while DBT involves multiple sessions over an extended period, taking into consideration the larger picture.
  • Setting: CBT sessions almost always take place in a one-to-one setting with one therapist and one individual. DBT therapy involves one-on-one sessions, group workshops, and phone calls.
  • Relationships: CBT focuses more on you and your problems, without particularly addressing your relationships. DBT intentionally focuses on relationships because they can be emotionally provocative.
  • Skills: CBT teaches you an individual set of skills you can use to improve your life. DBT teaches a general set of DBT skills that will remain the same, regardless of your problem.


CBT and DBT both have their values and can both be used together or individually to treat different mental disorders. Thankfully, you don’t have to choose between CBT and DBT. After your first assessment session, your therapist will be able to evaluate your situation and determine which type of therapist is best for you. Schedule your first session today to get started.

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