Dialectical Behaviour TherapyWhile some people seek psychological help to keep their mind “tidy”, the vast majority of patients who come to counselling or psychotherapy do so because of a crisis in their life. Perhaps it is a specific challenge such as marriage breakdown or a generalised sense of dissatisfaction that they can’t quite explain to themselves, but whatever the apparent cause of their unhappiness, it often has its root in issues with their relationships, past or present, with loved ones or in a wider social context.

We can all plead guilty to have been convinced, at one point or another, that we had communicated our needs to others clearly when we hadn’t, or feel baffled at some unexpected response to what we saw as a perfectly sensible request. With its mix of interpersonal skills, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, or DBT, is a successful therapy which can be beneficial to almost everybody in a wide range of situations,and help us communicate better with others in a respectful and effective manner.


What Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Is and How It Helps Relationships

One of the two main frameworks of mindfulness-based therapies, DBT teaches, not so much to change your reactions to upsetting events, but rather to accept pain and cope with it by equipping you with the right tools.

DBT is usually delivered in a number of modules, and the second one focuses on “interpersonal effectiveness”. Mastering this skill will make a significant difference to your life because how we communicate with others affects the quality of our relationships and the outcome of our interactions.

DBT teaches patients to step back and handle conversations thoughtfully rather than allowing themselves to become overwhelmed and react impulsively in response to their distress. Several elements are involved in this thought process, such as communicating clearly and being willing to listen to the other party and negotiate, while remaining clear about your goals.

This is, of course, easier said than done, as human interactions are very sophisticated and involve a range of interwoven skills as well as a fair share of non-verbal communication.

Thankfully, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy uses acronyms to help patients remember the skills that they need to apply for the 3 main groups: Objective effectiveness (achieving the goal of the interaction), Relationship effectiveness (achieving a conflict-free relationship) and Self-respect effectiveness (asserting your values respectfully).


For objective effectiveness, the acronym is DEAR MAN with the following skills:

D: Describe the issue to discuss in a concrete and non-judgmental way.

E: Express your feelings calmly, explaining to the other party how you feel about the situation.

A: Assert the outcome you wish, including stating clearly what you do NOT want.

R: Reaffirm why your desired outcome is important , and don’t forget to reward others when they respond positively to your wishes.

M – (Stay) Mindful. Don’t get distracted by past history or future issues, but stay in the moment and focus on the goal at hand.

A – Appear confident but not defensive or hostile. Maintain eye contact and adopt confident body language.

N – Negotiate. While you should keep your goals in mind, it is important to be willing to give in a little bit and remember that the needs and feelings of both parties are equally valid (that means yours too!)


For relationship effectiveness, the DBT acronym is GIVE, with the following skills being taught:

G: (be) Gentle. Discuss your goals in a friendly manner, avoiding attacks and allowing the other party to express their position honestly.

I: (act) Interested and listen to the other person without interrupting.

V: Validate and acknowledge your interlocutor’s feelings and opinions.

E: (use an) Easy manner. No matter how serious the matter is, remember to keep it light and open.


Last, the DBT acronym for Self-respect effectiveness is FAST and involves the following skills:

F: (be) Fair, and avoid giving cause for resentment.

A: (no) Apologies. Not everything rests on your shoulders, so only accept responsibility when appropriate.

S: Stick to your values. Not all compromises are good, so don’t bargain with your integrity to reach your goal.

T: (be) Truthful and avoid exaggerations or attempts at manipulation.


Human interactions are incredibly complex and it is not difficult to fall prey to the “mind-reading” syndrome and assume, subconsciously, that others know what you meant or can read between the lines. DBT’s sets of skills help people to communicate more clearly and positively, and enables them to ask for what they want respectfully, with integrity, and without strategies that could breed resentment.

If you are looking for DBT therapists in Auckland, couple counselling, or are experiencing relationship difficulties at college, at work or within your family, contact the Robert Street Clinic or call us on 09 973 5950 to discuss how Dialectical Behaviour Therapy can help you.