Is DBT Training an Effective Treatment for Eating Disorders?

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About 30 million people in America suffer from an eating disorder, and one person dies from the condition every hour In today's image-obsessed culture, this mental illness can be difficult to treat, but there are options available that may help people suffering from eating disorders overcome the issue. One option called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) has been found to be effective in this area. Here's more information about this therapy to help you determine if it's right for you.

About Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a type of cognitive behavioral treatment that combines classroom training, individual therapy, and coaching to help people learn and implement the skills they need to overcome or manage their conditions. It was first developed to help chronically suicidal people and those suffering from borderline personality disorder but has since been expanded for use in treating a host of other mental illnesses including eating disorders.

The therapy consists of three components:

  • Classroom-style training – Patients participate in a group meeting where the therapist teaches them specific skills for handling the challenges of dealing with an eating disorder. For instance, the therapist will teach mindfulness, which patients can use to become aware of harmful thoughts and deal with them before they lead to undesirable behavior.
  • Individual therapy – This will be one-on-one sessions with the therapist where patients discuss their progress, record their thoughts, deal with problems that have come up (e.g. problematic thoughts), and work on improving the skills they learned in the classroom setting.
  • Telephone coaching – Patients can call the therapist whenever necessary between the classroom training and individual therapy sessions to obtain motivation to continue with the treatment and address challenges they're experiencing putting their skills to use.

Contrary to other types of therapy, DBT is actually administered by a team of professionals who provide support in different areas. For instance, one mental health provider may conduct the classroom training, while another deals with the pharmacology side of things.

The Pros and Cons of DBT

DBT is very similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, except it integrates what's called an acceptance strategy. Instead of judging thoughts as good or bad when they arise, patients simply accept them as is. For example, people with eating disorders often have negative thoughts about their bodies. Instead of rejecting these thoughts, patients work on accepting that the thoughts arise and then releasing them rather than incessantly dwelling on them.

The primary benefit of this is it can increase a person's tolerance to distress. Many times people relapse into the destructive behaviors because they are unable to deal with stress and other triggers. By reducing the sting of negative thoughts, you're less likely to resort to self-harm to cope with the anxiety or other undesirable emotions.

More importantly, though, DBT focuses on permanently changing thoughts and behavior in addition to improving your coping skills, which can ensure long-term success.

The major drawback to DBT is it can take months and even years to get through the treatment, and things can get intense. The curriculum may feel intimidating when you first start it, which may put you off doing it. It's important you be open and honest with the therapist. He or she can make adjustments to the treatment program to make it easier for you to stick with.

Another issue is this treatment is typically used in mental health facilities. As noted previously, a team of professionals run the program, not just one person. It is much easier to coordinate the team in an inpatient setting. Therefore, you may be required to check into a treatment center to participate in this program.

All in all, DBT can help people overcome issues like eating disorder, but they do have to put in the time and effort to learn the skills needed to defeat the condition. For more information about DBT training, contact an organization like Treatment Implementation Collaborative.