DBT Article By: Lauren Merclean MA, LCSW

Lauren Merclean DBT Group Leader

Dealing Skillfully with Life’s Problems.


(Dialectical Behavior Therapy) is a type of therapy developed by Marsha Linehan. It was originally designed to treat people who didn’t respond to traditional CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and also struggled with chronic suicidality.

Since the 1990s, it has proven effective not only with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) but a wide array of issues. It has proven  effective with anxiety disorders,  substance use disorders, depressive disorders, to name a few. DBT in fact, is useful in general for individual problems we all experience in working to cope with everyday life.


It is Flexible and Adaptable, Practical and Doable.

One of the most appealing parts of DBT is its flexibility and adaptability. The treatment can be used in a strict protocol for highly structured therapy including skills training. It can also be used in its component parts as needed.

Skills training has many advantages in therapy and for the general population. It includes a curriculum that uses a series of practical, doable and concrete coping skills. These skills once learned are immediately applicable to everyday life.

 Comprehensive and Effective.

The protocol of structured DBT based therapy plus group training is very effective. This comprehensive treatment  addresses the most difficult issues utilizing the full DBT protocol.  The DBT group trains you in the skills needed to change unhelpful behaviors, which significantly enhances effectiveness of therapy. The four modules can be shaped to effectively address unique individual needs. 

Group Skills Training

When we speak about the group part think of it as a “class about coping skills,” as opposed to traditional group therapy. The Groups are highly structured by the leader. The sole focus of group is teaching,  learning and applying skills to everyday life. There is not much personal information or discussion in group training beyond “how can we use and apply these skills in our life?”

Useful for the Full Range of Problems Life Presents.

DBT skills have four units: 1. core mindfulness skills, 2. interpersonal effectiveness skills, 3. emotion regulation skills, and 4. reality acceptance skills (distress tolerance).

  • Mindfulness is considered the core of DBT.  It trains us to be present and mindful of what we are doing, feeling, and thinking, in order to enhance our ability to see unhelpful patterns and make beneficial change.
  • Interpersonal effectiveness skills are included.  If we are effective interpersonally, we suffer less.
  • Emotion regulation skills help people interact with their emotions more skillfully. You learn to become less stuck in thinking, feeling and experiencing when it is not helpful or not factual.  
  • Reality acceptance skills help people cope better with painful occurrences in their life that they cannot change. The truth is, every single person over the course of their life will experience painful events or circumstances that they have little to no control over.  These skills teach us how to endure pain more skillfully and learn to suffer less. Learning to deal skillfully with what we can not change is one of the most challenging and most empowering skill sets a person can learn in life.

It is Designed from Real Life Experience.

In closing, a lot of patients find legitimacy in learning about the creator of DBT, Marsha Linehan’s own struggles. She came out in a NY Times article a few years ago, revealing her own mental health struggles and describing how much of the treatment was inspired by her own recovery.

If you think DBT could be helpful to you or want to learn more about our  group, contact MSAM today and we will be happy to assist you. For more information on MSAM’s DBT group, click here.

Lauren Merclean MA, LCSW is the Clinical Director at MSAM, who leads the DBT Group. Prior to private practice, Lauren worked at the UPMC Mood and Anxiety Clinic in Pittsburgh, PA. She enjoyed teaching DBT skills to many different populations. Lauren is a fervent believer in DBT and especially DBT skills. She has benefitted in her own life from learning DBT skills and believes that they can be helpful to almost any person, regardless of mental illness.

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