Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) are two of the most common forms of talking therapy that are used in the treatment of many different mental health conditions.

While they are both based on similar ideas, there are differences between these two areas. This article explores these differences, which can be helpful for anyone considering accessing talking therapy.

CBT and DBT both aim to improve mental wellbeing


Here are definitions of both:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of therapy that is used to treat a range of mental health conditions. CBT involves an individual talking face-to-face with a therapist, although sometimes CBT can be conducted in a group setting. CBT attempts to improve an individual’s wellbeing and mood. The therapy focuses on the link between thoughts, feelings and actions. This can be useful for those with low self-esteem, anxiety, unhelpful personality traits or intrusive thoughts. CBT can help an individual understand their feelings more, and in the long run should lead to an improvement in quality of life.

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT): DBT is a type of therapy that is tailor-made for Borderline Personality Disorder, though can also be useful for many other conditions. The therapy runs on the basis that an individual is emotionally vulnerable, and that the individual grew up in an environment where emotions were dismissed and not treated. These factors cause an individual to feel guilty or ashamed for having upsetting emotions, which leads to more upset. DBT aims to change this system, using a range of techniques to help, with a focus on acceptance and problem-solving.

The similarities

For starters, both CBT and DBT are very popular and effective treatments. Such are their effectiveness, that the NHS use both types of therapy very commonly. For example, CBT is usually used as a first line treatment for most cases of Depression, Anxiety and other conditions.

DBT meanwhile is normally used as a treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder – and often other personality disorders too. But like CBT, the NHS in the United Kingdom normally uses it as a first line treatment when necessary.

Both CBT and DBT are effective in both a one-on-one and group setting. While these don’t allow for an in-depth therapist-patient relationship, by working with others in a group, it can be very useful to assist in the recovery of others.

Neither CBT nor DBT tend to involve looking at the past. For anyone that is seeking help for problems in the modern day, this often isn’t an issue. However, if a person’s mental health condition is linked to an event or issues from the past, they may struggle to find success with CBT or DBT.

Moreover, both CBT and DBT are usually very structured, and do not typically last for several months. They are structured due to their tried and tested format – which has proven effective for decades. Their methodology means that treatment courses last around 6-12 sessions, rather than longer-term types of therapy.

The differences

The main difference is that DBT was actually founded by someone who saw some problems with CBT, but used its framework to build her own therapy. This person – Marsha Linehan – was able to put together her own form of therapy, which became DBT.

Linehan founded DBT with the intention of tailoring it towards Borderline Personality Disorder. While it was initially used purely for this purpose, it has since became very popular, being used for a range of other conditions.

DBT emphasises the importance of how a person interacts with others in relationships and other environments. There is a specific focus on managing emotions and interpersonal relationships. However, CBT is more concerned with the thinking and behaving of a person, and how certain thoughts can affect a person.

So while DBT aims to change unhelpful behaviours and looks more at how the patient interacts with others, CBT focuses more on changing the way someone thinks and behaves, with a focus on changing internal thought processes.


Overall, CBT and DBT are similar in many ways. DBT offers a few areas that may focus on relationships more, but is equally as capable of helping a person as CBT is. Both have been successful for many years.

It is difficult to know which of these types of therapy will benefit each individual person. It is also important to remember that there are a range of other types of talking therapy too. Ultimately, finding a form of therapy which can lead to improved mental wellbeing is crucial – CBT and DBT are both popular formats which help many people.

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