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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

May 18, 2023

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In drug rehab, there are several types of therapies used to help people overcome this health challenge. Two of the most popular therapies are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). These talk therapies have a long history in the drug rehab field and have evidence of successful results. Hence, the term evidence-based therapies. However, what are their differences, you may wonder. Let’s take a closer look at CBT vs DBT.


CBT vs DBT is not so much opposing strategies or therapies as they are complementary. Dialectical behavioral therapy is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy. However, each one focuses a bit differently on emotional issues that may be driving substance abuse.

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Cognitive-behavioral therapy zeros in on how your thoughts influence your feelings and actions. It’s a cycle that continues until its broken. The therapy strategy helps you change your thoughts, which, in turn, improves your emotions and behavior. Therefore, you break the cycle of negative reactions.

For example, a person may think that people are untrustworthy (due to past trauma). Consequently, they feel anxious or suspicious in new relationships, which leads them to action—which is isolation. 

In dialectical behavioral therapy, the focus is somewhat different. Instead of looking at the inner thoughts and attempting to change those, DBT focuses on the emotions and behavior and offers strategies to change the behavior or deal with overwhelming emotions. This therapy has helped people with borderline personality as well as many other conditions, such as substance abuse.

When looking at DBT vs CBT, it’s essential to realize that the therapist helps you recognize the problem behavior while at the same time ensuring you accept yourself during dialectical behavioral therapy. Then they teach you mindfulness techniques and strategies so that when situations arise, you feel equipped with the tools you need to overcome strong emotions. It also shows you how to put up boundaries in relationships, if this is a problem for you.

When determining the treatment for DBT vs CBT, it’s very similar in that you will talk with a therapist who will guide you through the healing journey.

What Are the Similarities Between CBT and DBT?

Dialectical behavior therapy was first formed as a branch of cognitive behavioral therapy, so the two modalities share some characteristics. Some therapists feel that DBT is a form of CBT that utilizes more mindfulness practices.

Both CBT and DBT are evidence-based psychotherapies. As with all forms of psychotherapy,

both CBT and DBT sessions consist mainly of a client speaking with a counselor about their challenges. Sessions will be spent talking about how you feel, answering questions from your therapist, and developing strategies to cope with life’s stressors more effectively.

According to both CBT and DBT, there is a close interrelationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Whichever form of psychotherapy you pursue, you can expect to explore the way in which your thoughts impact your behavior.

There is also some overlap in the applications of CBT and DBT. Both forms of therapy can be used to treat some addictions and certain mental health disorders.

What Are the Differences Between CBT and DBT?

Although cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy have some commonalities, the therapies also differ in many ways. These can be categorized as follows:

  • Underpinning philosophies
  • Therapy goals
  • Session format
  • Applications

Underpinning philosophies

The primary difference between these two forms of psychotherapy is the way in which each approaches the patient.

CBT focuses more on logic and critical thinking. The goal is to promote healthier patterns of thinking and behaving.

DBT, by contrast, draws from mindfulness philosophies with a view to helping patients foster a better level of acceptance, both of themselves and their environments.

Therapy goals

CBT is typically more goal-oriented than DBT. A therapist will help you to identify negative patterns of thinking or behaving and then provides you with the tools to change these issues.

Although DBT has goals, they are not as direct or rigid. The core purpose of DBT is to encourage you to accept yourself, and also to better regulate your emotions and destructive behaviors.

Where CBT focuses more on behaviors, then, DBT emphasizes social and emotional aspects of the patient.

Session format

If you engage with cognitive behavioral therapy, treatment is brief and time-limited. In many cases, CBT programs last for just a few weeks. DBT, on the other hand, is typically a process that takes several months over the course of 16 sessions.

Dialectical behavior therapy almost always involves a group component. This offers patients the chance to implement interpersonal communication skills in a safe and supportive environment. CBT can involve group sessions, but this is not central to therapy.


The goal of CBT is to change flawed patterns of thinking and destructive behaviors while the goal of DBT is to regulate intense emotions and strengthen acceptance. Due to these differing goals, CBT and DBT are used to treat different conditions.

CBT is most effective for the treatment of:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorders
  • OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
  • Social phobias

DBT is most effective for the treatment of:

  • BPD (borderline personality disorder)
  • Substance use disorder
  • Self-harm
  • Eating disorders

Seek Treatment Today

At Renaissance Recovery, our compassionate, experienced professionals offer therapy solutions to substance use disorders and help you understand different treatment options, such as CBT vs DBT. We work with a wide range of drug addiction issues, including heroin, alcohol, meth, cocaine, painkillers, and more.

Through our rehab center, we help you find your way along the healing journey to sobriety. A therapist will assess your situation to learn the differences between CBT vs DBT and decide which will suit you best. As you move forward in therapy, you will begin to see the progress you’re making and become more confident.

Start Your Path to Sobriety at Renaissance Recovery

Depending on the nature of your case, you can get treatment from one or more of the following programs:

Don’t let addiction steal the joy from your life. Now that you know the difference between CBT vs DBT, you can seek whichever treatment is best for you. To learn more about dialectical behavioral therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy in Orange County, contact us at [Direct]. We’ll get you on the right path for healing.866.330.9449



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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