Comparing and Contrasting CBT and DBT

Comparing and Contrasting CBT and DBT

Finding the Differences Between Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) each play an important role in treating mental health issues. These two types of therapy fall under the umbrella of psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy. Throughout the therapeutic process, an individual facing challenges talks with a professional in a safe, confidential, growth-stimulating environment where they learn new skills on how to manage those challenges.

CBT and DBT are among the most common methods of psychotherapy used to treat mental health issues. While they share many similarities, they also have important differences.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT, primarily focuses on the relationship between thoughts and feelings. This line of thinking focuses on how thoughts impact feelings and how certain patterns of behavior can lead to mental health challenges. CBT also focuses on replacing unhelpful thoughts and behaviors with new actions and ways of thinking. Therapists often use CBT to treat mental health issues like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and more.

Therapists use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and work with clients to identify issues and challenges, uncover the causes, and establish new coping mechanisms, tools, and strategies to help get past or overcome them.

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy, also known as DBT, is a modified alternative to CBT. It was initially created to treat BPD (borderline personality disorder). Therapists often use DBT with clients who are experiencing suicidal thoughts or actions, but they have discovered new ways to treat other mental health issues through Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

DBT stresses the practice of mindfulness, increasing distress tolerance, strengthening emotional regulation skills, and growing relationships. Clients work with their therapist to uncover harmful thought patterns, accept them, and learn how to react to them healthily. Balance is critical in this form of therapy as clients work to accept their challenges and work toward change.

Differences Between CBT and DBT


The main difference between Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a matter of emphasis: CBT focuses on thought patterns and their redirection; DBT focuses on balance and the relationship between acceptance and change. Both Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy aim to ultimately help the client change their thought patterns.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is usually completed after a short interval. These sessions focus on specific problems. With a set goal in mind, clients have something they’re working toward, and CBT is finished once they get there. DBT usually involves sessions over a more extended period of time where the therapist and client can consider the larger picture.


Another difference between CBT and DBT can be context. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy nearly always takes place in a one-on-one setting. The client and the therapist work together, and then the client will often have “homework” to take home. On the other hand, Dialectical Behavior Therapy can be used in both one-on-one and group settings.

Choosing a Method

Some therapists call upon multiple methods of therapy, also called modalities or models of therapy, which is often referred to as an eclectic approach; other therapists will choose the model they believe best to help each individual person; still others specialize in just one or two models. Both CBT and DBT are useful for treating a wide range of mental health issues. To determine which approach will work best for you, consult with a therapist. 

To connect with a therapist in your area, click here.

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Nancy

    November 7th, 2022 at 6:14 AM

    CBT and DBT for five years AND NO improvement for chronic nerve pain. Please stop spreading lies. The “evidence” is a joke and fails empirically

  • Debby

    April 4th, 2023 at 11:56 PM

    Hi Nancy, I was not aware that these kinds of therapy were also for physical pain management. Although I am aware that our emotional and psychological pain can manifest in the body, I always believed these methods of therapy were more thought and behavioural based. Your comment was interesting. I am sorry it didn’t help you. There are other methods that may work better for you. Best of luck.

  • Erin

    September 19th, 2023 at 9:44 PM

    Thanks Nancy- i was curious of the context of chronic pain management and DBT. It is unfortunate when some have been led to believe certain modalities and can “work” for anyone and everyone. As we know, that is not the case.

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