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Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT) for People with Autism

You may have heard of Dialectic Behavioral Therapy™ (DBT). It falls under and umbrella of Cognitive Behavioral Therapies that focus on changing thought processes and behaviors. It is most commonly applied to people diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder to regulate emotions. More recently we’ve seen practical applications for people with Autism and other Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities.

What is Dialectic Behavioral Therapy?
Dialectic Behavioral Therapy™ aims to teach people how to live in the moment, cope with stress, regulate emotions, and improve relationships with others. Therapists utilize DBT to alleviate painful feelings and coach new strategies in coping, thinking, and behaving. DBT is a research and evidenced-based form of therapy to help people live a full and meaningful life.

How Can Dialectic Behavioral Therapy help people with Autism or Intellectual Disabilities?
The strategy for using DBT with people with disabilities is to identify different types of coping strategies that help the negative emotions, thoughts, and reactions. Typically in a group therapy sitting, clients learn that if a problem can't be fixed, or can't be fixed right now, that our job is to distract and soothe ourselves to reduce negative feelings like anxiety, anger and sadness. This is better than lashing out at others, becoming physically aggressive, catastrophizing (thinking the worst will happen), or any other maladaptive thought process or behavior.
What do HOPE Therapy and Wellness Center DBT™ Groups Focus On?
At HOPE Therapy and Wellness Center, we offer DBT™ groups that are specifically created for people with disabilities. We focus on the following ‘4 pillars’ of DBT™
Mindfulness—focusing on the present ("living in the moment"). Our groups focus on helping clients learn to observe the world around them, describe what they observe, and then participate in their experience fully. Our clients see increased levels of anxiety due to perseveration, obsessions, and so much more. DBT™ therapy teaches skills to allow the client to ‘hit the pause button’ and be aware of their experiences. Research shows this is a highly effective way to reduce anxiety.  

Distress Tolerance—learning to accept oneself and the current situation. More specifically, people learn how to tolerate or survive crises using these four techniques: distraction, self-soothing, improving the movement, and thinking of pros and cons. We teach skills on identifying where the individual person’s stress tolerance is and their sensory input levels. Sensory awareness is critical to increasing stress tolerance and increasing coping skills.

Interpersonal Effectiveness—how to be assertive in a relationship (for example, expressing needs and saying "no") but still keeping that relationship positive and healthy. This component is critical to serving the ID & ASD populations. In therapy we identify factors that get in the way of our interpersonal effectiveness (allowing emotions to overwhelm us, being unsure of what we really want, allowing our thoughts to race) and work collectively to remove those barriers to interpersonal effectiveness. Clients learn guidelines and practical skills for maintaining and creating relationships.  

Emotion Regulation—recognizing and coping with negative emotions (for example, anger) and reducing one's emotional vulnerability by increasing positive emotional experiences. We teach clients the value and purpose of emotions and how to recognize and name their emotions. This is the first and most critical step in regulating emotions that get out of control.

If you’d like to learn more about Dialectic Behavioral Therapy™ for yourself or a loved one, please contact us today. We are hosting DBT™ group therapy sessions weekly throughout the Summer! Spaces are extremely limited.

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