Syracuse UniversityCounseling Center

DBT Group Introduction

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a form of therapy developed by Marsha Linehan, has been extensively researched and found to be effective at helping people to manage overwhelming emotions. Research shows that DBT strengthens a person’s ability to handle distress, or large emotions, without losing control or acting destructively.

Although DBT was originally developed to treat Borderline Personality Disorder, it can be helpful for anyone who struggles with intense, overwhelming emotions. It can also be helpful for people who at times feel separate from their emotions, or have difficulty identifying what their emotions are. The skills taught in DBT can both reduce the size of your emotional waves, and help you keep your balance when your emotions overwhelm you. You can expect that, if you really do the work to implement the skills you learn, your reactions to your feelings will change. The skills you will learn can affect the outcome of every conflict, and can alter the course of your relationships.

What are Dialectics? The term “dialectics” comes from philosophy, and it is a concept that is used to illustrate that there is usually a kernel of truth in every perspective of an argument. A dialectical perspective involves seeing that reality is both black and white, and grey. Dialectics are things that may seem to be in conflict and yet they are both real and true. It is when there is more than one right answer, and sometimes there is no good answer. Dialectics are about getting people to live in a middle place, balancing their own needs with the needs of others’, giving and receiving, working and playing, and winning and losing. It is not about being where your therapist or family wants you to be, but where you want to be. Extremes are uncomfortable places, and to live in a dialectical way means to live with your emotions, without having them overwhelm you or harm your relationships.

Core Principles of DBT:

DBT teaches 4 important sets of skills that can both reduce the size of your emotional waves and help you keep your balance when those emotions overwhelm you.

  1. Mindfulness Skills will help you to more fully experience the present moment, while focusing less on painful experiences from the past or frightening possibilities in the future. Mindfulness will give you tools to overcome negative judgments about yourself and others.

  2. Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills have to do with managing relationships effectively. They involve asking for what one wants or needs, saying no, and managing relationship conflicts. They are central to negotiating life effectively.

  3. Emotional Regulation Skills help you to recognize more clearly what you feel, and then to observe each emotion without getting overwhelmed by it. The goal is to modulate your feelings without acting in reactive, destructive ways.

  4. Distress Tolerance Skills are ways of surviving terrible situations without resorting to behaviors that make a situation worse. These skills help us experience, tolerate and accept emotional pain in order to build a life with less suffering and more acceptance of the world as it is.

DBT Skills Group Overview

The Syracuse University Counseling Center DBT Skills Group meets for 2 hours per week, and it runs for 12 weeks. The Skills Group will start on the 3rd Wednesday of the semester, taking place from 2-4 pm. It will run weekly for 12 sessions. All Skills Group members must attend the first group / orientation session.

I. The focus of Skills Group is on learning new behaviors, changing old behaviors, and exploring new ways of doing things.

II. Format of Skills Group: Skills Group consists of 6-8 students and 2 Skills Trainers. It runs for 2 hours per week. Students who arrive 10 or more minutes after group has started, are asked to not interrupt group, as it will have already started. The first hour of group focuses on Mindfulness, Diary Cards, and Homework. The second hour of group focuses on learning and practicing new skills. Group ends with a Mindfulness exercise. Because of the amount of information covered, should a member miss more than 2 group sessions per semester, they will be asked to forfeit their place in group. In such cases they will lose access to both Skills Group AND Individual Therapy through the Counseling Center for the remainder of that semester.

III. Group Contract: Each group member is asked to sign a group contract in which they agree to commit to group rules. Group rules will be discussed and established at the first group.

IV. Individual Therapy: The preferred mode of treatment at the Syracuse University Counseling Center is group. That said, there may be times when you and your Skills Trainers or Individual Therapist feel you could benefit from supplemental sessions with your Individual Therapist. We ask that you follow your Skills Trainers’ recommendations regarding individual therapy.

With adherence to the DBT model, the focus of Individual Therapy will be on developing ways to have the behavior happen.

For example: You are having difficulty practicing DEAR MAN in a particularly challenging relationship that could benefit from this skill. An individual therapy session might focus on how you could practice/apply DEAR MAN to that relationship (We know you understand how to use the skills, and so the focus of individual would be on how can you start to apply them in your daily life).

Your Skills Trainer will make weekly Group Progress Notes available to your Individual Therapist.