CBT Vs. DBT: What’s The Difference?

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Addictions and mental health conditions respond positively to behavioral interventions like psychotherapies. Many people want to know the difference between CBT vs. DBT, and how these therapies can help them overcome mental health struggles.

There are many forms of psychotherapy – the clinical term for talk therapy – and two of the most common approaches are CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy).

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What is the difference between DBT and CBT? In this guide to CBT vs DBT, you can discover more about each modality and determine which might be most beneficial for your needs.

What’s the Difference between CBT & DBT?

If you are comparing DBT therapy vs CBT therapy, the most suitable approach will depend on what issues you want to work on with a therapist.

CBT emphasizes the interrelated nature of your thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behaviors. The aim of cognitive behavioral therapy is to help you replace unhelpful thoughts and behaviors with more positive and helpful ones. CBT is highly structured and typically involves assignments to complete outside of therapy sessions. 

DBT, by contrast, focuses on four key areas of focus, helping you to:

  1. Stay in the present moment
  2. Regulate emotions
  3. Deal with crises
  4. Improve your personal relationships

There is a difference between DBT and CBT both in terms of how the treatment is delivered and what you learn during therapy sessions – more on this below. 

How are these forms of psychotherapy similar, then?


DBT was initially developed as a branch of CBT, so these psychotherapeutic approaches share some similarities. Some therapists feel that DBT is a type of mindfulness-based CBT.

Both cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy involve mainly talking with a counselor or therapist about your challenges. Part of the session consists of answering questions posed by your therapist, and part of the session involves you talking about how you feel.

CBT and DBT are both based on the same concept of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors being closely related.

So, there is a degree of overlap between DBT and CBT, with both forms of psychotherapy occasionally indicated to treat the same behavioral disorder.


Despite some superficial similarities, CBT and DBT are not the same therapy modality. Some people may respond more positively to DBT, while others may find that CBT works better for them. 

What is the difference between CBT and DBT, then?

  • Goals: CBT is more goal-oriented than DBT, aiming to help you identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors. While DBT has goals, they are more flexible and indirect. The core purpose of DBT is to help you discover how to manage emotions, accept yourself, and regulate destructive behaviors. DBT places a sharper focus on social and emotional aspects, while CBT is chiefly concerned with your behaviors.
  • Philosophies: CBT is mainly logic-focused. You will be encouraged to use critical thinking to create healthier thoughts and behaviors. DBT, on the other hand, is more focused on how you interact with others and yourself, using mindfulness philosophies to encourage you to accept yourself and your environment rather than offering resistance.
  • Types of therapy sessions: CBT usually involves shorter therapy sessions than DBT. Additionally, CBT is a time-limited form of talk therapy that may last for a few weeks. DBT involves a deeper process that lasts for many months. DBT usually has a group therapy component where you can practice interpersonal communication and other skills in a safe and supportive environment.
  • Applications: CBT focuses on altering problematic patterns of thinking while DBT is concerned with regulating intense emotions. As such, these forms of psychotherapy often have different uses. Research shows that CBT is the most effective approach for depression, GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and phobia management. DBT is proven to be the most effective approach for BPD (borderline personality disorder), eating disorders, substance use disorders, and self-harm.
an image of two women discussing the key differences between CBT vs. DBT

DBT vs. CBT: Which Do You Need?

Either CBT or DBT might be more effective, depending on the issue in question. That said, CBT is more widely used than DBT.

A review of studies shows that CBT is proven effective for the short-term treatment of conditions such as:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Anxiety disorder
  • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
  • Substance use disorder
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Eating disorders like bulimia
  • Smoking cessation
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gambling
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)

DBT is frequently used to treat BPD and suicidal behaviors due to its focus on emotional dysregulation. DBT may be a beneficial component of treatment for mental health conditions that involve emotional disorders.

 CBT may be superior if you need to change how your patterns of thinking trigger challenges in your life and discover how to use coping techniques in your ongoing recovery. If, on the other hand, you are experiencing a crisis, battling suicidal thoughts, or require help regulating your emotions, DBT might be a better fit. There is no right or wrong answer when comparing DBT vs CBT, so analyze the problem you want to solve with therapy and use this guide to help you choose the best modality for your needs.

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CBT & DBT at California Detox

If you or a loved one are addicted to prescription medications, alcohol, or illicit drugs, we offer a variety of treatment programs at California Detox in Laguna Beach. All programs offer access to both CBT and DBT.

Take advantage of the smoothest pathway to inpatient or outpatient rehab with our supervised medical detox program. Access medications to streamline withdrawal and mitigate cravings. Detox addresses the issue of physical dependence, allowing you to transition into one of the following treatment programs:

  • Inpatient program (residential rehab)
  • PHP (partial hospitalization program)
  • IOP (intensive outpatient program)
  • OP (outpatient program)
  • Virtual IOP (remote rehab program)
  • Dual diagnosis treatment program (for co-occurring disorders)

All California Detox treatment programs provide individualized treatment that combines evidence-based interventions and holistic therapies for a whole-body approach to addiction recovery. These include: 

  • CBT
  • DBT
  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Group counseling
  • Individual counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Holistic therapy

When you complete your California Detox treatment program, you can step down to a less intensive form of treatment or move back into day-to-day life. You will have an aftercare plan that includes relapse prevention techniques to maximize your chance of sustained recovery from addiction. Call admissions at 949.694.8305 for immediate assistance.


CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is a mental health treatment therapy that combines both behavioral and cognitive therapy. The therapy is based in the idea that our behaviors, thoughts, and feelings are all related and should be treated as a whole, rather than parts of the whole mental health picture.
DBT is a comprehensive, proven effective treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). It involves weekly group and individual therapy sessions that, while similar in practice to CBT, are uniquely catered to specifically treat BPD and similarly related problems


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