Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) at The Wave

The Wave is a specialist centre for the treatment of teenagers and young adults, for whom Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is particularly relevant.

DBT skills groups and assignments are a key feature in The WavED programs and for those young people joining our programs who have been diagnosed with C-PTSD, Borderline Personality Disorder or Eating Disorders.

The skills groups and assignments allow our young people to demonstrate and practise skills for greater emotional regulation and improved interpersonal relationships, both in treatment and beyond.

Skills groups take place twice each week, in 90-minute sessions, with assignments to be completed outside the sessions. Our Recovery Coaching Team provides additional support to help our young people put their newly found skills into practice.

What is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy?

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is a specially adapted version of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), developed in the late 1980s, by psychologist Marsha M. Linehan. It combines behavioural science with Zen Buddhist techniques of acceptance and mindfulness.

This talking therapy treatment is designed specifically for individuals who feel emotions very intensely, particularly those with self-harming behaviours and/or suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

What Does ‘Dialectical’ Mean?

‘Dialectical’ refers to an integration or synergy of opposites. In DBT, it means the ability to view things from multiple perspectives and move gently from extreme positions. DBT provides a framework for making sense of contradictory things. For example, DBT teaches that an individual can work on self-acceptance and on changing behaviours at the same time.

In DBT, the therapist works with the individual to find ways to hold two seemingly opposite perspectives. The therapeutic aims are to promote balance and avoid the all-or-nothing styles of thinking common in individuals suffering from personality disorders.

‘Dialectical’ refers to an integration or synergy of opposites. In DBT, it means the ability to view things from multiple perspectives and move gently from extreme positions.

A key assumption in DBT is that self-destructive behaviours are learned coping techniques for intense and negative emotions, such as shame, guilt, sadness, fear, and anger. It is thought that some people are ‘hard-wired’ or genetically predisposed to feel emotions this intensely, or that extreme emotional or physical trauma has caused the vulnerability.

The ultimate goal of DBT is to significantly reduce impulsivity, interpersonal challenges, emotional reactivity, self-harm, and suicidal behaviour.

What is DBT Used to Treat?

DBT is recognised as an evidence-based treatment and over the past 30 years has been effective in the treatment of a wide range of disorders.

The therapy was developed specifically for people with Borderline Personality Disorder but is also used to help people with a wide range of mental health and behavioural issues, particularly those prone to react in a more intense and out-of-the-ordinary manner toward certain emotional situations. DBT is most commonly used to treat:

  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Self-harming
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviour
  • Substance abuse
  • Anger and violent behaviour
  • Any other self-destructive behaviours.

For people with Borderline Personality Disorders, everything feels unstable, including relationships, moods, thinking, behaviour and even identity. DBT is helpful to those who experience extreme mood swings, find it difficult to deal with uncertainty, and seem to jump from one crisis to another.

DBT is a helpful therapy for people considered high-risk and tough-to-treat, particularly those who present with multiple diagnoses.

How Effective is DBT?

Randomised controlled trials have consistently shown the efficacy of DBT, not only in Borderline Personality Disorders but also in other psychiatric complaints, such as substance use disorders, mood disorders, PTSD, and eating disorders.

DBT works because it successfully increases a person’s ability to use effective coping skills, especially when experiencing, expressing, and regulating intense emotions.

In evaluations, DBT has been found to be effective among individuals from diverse backgrounds in terms of gender, age, sexual orientation and race/ethnicity.

What’s the Difference Between DBT and CBT?

CBT and DBT are both talking therapies that help to manage problems by changing thought patterns and behaviours. DBT is actually a type of CBT.

DBT uses a problem solving and acceptance-based framework to understand and accept difficult feelings and develop skills to manage these feelings. The therapy is tailored to help people accept the discomfort they feel, while at the same time choosing more healthy behaviours.

DBT still applies the core CBT principles of understanding how thoughts, feelings and behaviour influence each other, but also places a focus on relationships and acceptance.

Learning new behaviours is critical in both CBT and DBT. However, DBT also teaches techniques for managing emotions, building relationships with others, coping with distress, self-acceptance, and mindfulness.

What Are the Key Elements of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy?

The core components of DBT are:

  • Individual psychotherapy– problem solving of behaviour issues.
  • Group psychotherapy – learning coping skills and behaviour strategies, from the following four modules:
    • Mindfulness– improving an individual’s ability to accept and be present in the current moment.
    • Interpersonal effectiveness – maintaining self-respect and building personal relationships.
    • Distress tolerance– increasing a person’s tolerance of negative emotion, rather than trying to escape from it.
    • Emotion regulation– strategies to manage and change intense emotions that are causing problems.

Is DBT Better Than CBT?

When it comes to comparing DBT with CBT, it’s not a case of one being better than the other; each has its appropriate use.

DBT was developed because CBT wasn’t working for some people. In particular, it was discovered that people experiencing mental health issues, as a result of intense emotions, were more likely to drop out of CBT therapy, where the focus was purely on change.

DBT places an additional focus on acceptance and regulating emotions and is more suitable for certain states, such as Borderline Personality Disorder.

Grow, heal, and lay the groundwork for a successful, happy life

About The Wave

At The Wave, we help teenagers and young adults, between the ages of 15 and 30, overcome eating disorders, behavioural problems, addiction, and other mental health problems. We use a combination of physical activities and therapy sessions to help our young people to grow, heal, and lay the groundwork for a successful, happy life.

Mahisha Naidu leads our Creative Arts Therapy activities, having trained in Dance and Movement Psychotherapy at Goldsmiths, London. Mahisha has led The Wave Clinical Team for two years. She is passionate about her treatment of eating disorders and leads our food and body groups three times a week. Her role has seen her develop a specialist interest in working with adolescent girls, particularly focused on borderline personality disorder, self-harm and developing emotional regulation.

Mahisha is currently studying Internal Family Structures (IFS), which is an innovative therapy, particularly suited to our work at The Wave, where it has been used effectively with our young people and their families. Mahisha is a member of APPCH.

To learn more about Art Therapy at The Wave, please contact us.

Professional associations and memberships

We are here to help

Have any questions or want to get started with the admissions process? Fill in the form below and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.


    Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

    Dubai, United Arab Emirates

    London, United Kingdom