Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Managing PTSD

Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Managing PTSD

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological disorder that results from actual or threatened danger. Examples of this can include enduring natural disasters, physical, sexual or emotional abuse, war or combat, hostage or kidnapping situations and other criminal acts.

While these experiences are terrifying and impact survivors in many ways, not everyone will develop PTSD after experiencing trauma. The distress may fade over time, but for those with PTSD the effects will only worsen over time.

Symptoms of PTSD

Typical symptoms of PTSD include the following issues:

  • Re-experiencing the event; having vivid nightmares, flashbacks and memories
  • The need to avoid any and everything similar to the event. Survivors may isolate themselves from others and avoid social interaction altogether.
  • Dissociative symptoms like depersonalization, psychic numbing or amnesia
  • Having an increased arousal or hyper-vigilant state that can cause insomnia, anxiety issues, sensitivity to sensory stimuli, emotional liability and difficulty concentrating
  • Physical impairment such as a rapid heart beat, shortness or breath, nausea, dizziness and gastrointestinal problems

PTSD is a disease that torments patients because they cannot heal from the traumatic experience. Instead the trauma terrorizes them and harms one’s health, relationships, lifestyle and wellbeing. When PTSD goes untreated, patients may turn to drugs to medicate their symptoms, which will worsen mental health issues and may prompt self-harm.

Treatment for PTSD

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is cognitive behavior therapy that was developed to treat borderline personality disorder, but also aids multiple mental health issues. It is largely used in conjunction with other treatments to heal mental health issues like depression, PTSD and addiction. As a cognitive behavior therapy, DBT focuses on changing one’s thoughts, beliefs and behaviors. The main focus of DBT is to help patients learn skills that will decrease emotion dysregulation, self-destructive behaviors and other unhealthy coping mechanisms.

DBT helps PTSD in the following ways:

  • Addresses and removes dangerous behavior commonly seen among individuals with PTSD
  • Develops a trusting relationship between therapist and patient(s)
  • Teaches skills that regulate emotions or symptoms of PTSD. It does this through mindfulness concepts, interpersonal effectiveness skills and distress-tolerance skills.

DBT helps patients analyze their emotional and psychological issues and teaches them to control their behavior. It encourages patients to identify their emotional experiences and manage them through skills they learn and practice in therapy. DBT teaches mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance and emotional regulation skills with real-life scenarios. The goal is for patients to take these skills outside therapy, to cope with symptoms that enable PTSD, anxiety and other mental and emotional health problems. While PTSD is a devastating and painful disorder, patients now have many options to treat the disorder.