Expectations, whether based on fact and experience, or our own assumptions and interpretations, have the tendency to either prepare or disappoint. Because of this, it’s important to understand what differentiates DBT skills groups from other therapeutic groups, so that you can make an informed decision about whether participating in a DBT skills group will be beneficial for you. Joining a DBT skills group is a 24-week commitment and although this experience can prove highly effective, it may not be a good fit for everyone.
How Are DBT Groups Different?
A common misunderstanding of DBT skills groups is that they are comparable to other therapeutic groups, such as process groups or support groups. Although the DBT skills group atmosphere often fosters feelings of peer support and understanding, the primary purpose of these groups is to learn effective skills.
The DBT skills group format allows for the sharing of personal information at the discretion of each group member, however, the majority of information shared within the DBT skills group is done in relation to the use of the DBT skills. This practice ensures that any difficulties implementing the skills may be addressed, by both the facilitators and group members. Although DBT skills groups encourage group member interaction and input there is a classroom-like component, as each week a new skill is taught. One of the benefits of participating in a DBT skills group is that each group member brings their own experiences and unique approaches to particular skills and situations. This opportunity the learn together, and from each other’s experiences helps us learn innovative ways to approach the skills.
A DBT skills group is an essential component of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. While combining individual therapy and the DBT skills group is not mandatory, it is important to recognize that the main goal of a DBT skills group is to teach and support group members in effectively using new skills. The emphasis on teaching new skills – and the very nature of a group setting – allows for less 1-on-1 attention for each group member and is a reason that supplementing DBT skills group with individual therapy is recommended.
What Does a DBT Skills Group Session Look Like?
Each DBT group session will begin with mindfulness practice. Mindfulness can take many forms, ranging from mindful colouring to guided visualization, and is incorporated for both personal practice and group benefit. This practice can help group members become present and ready to engage and learn in a group.
Following mindfulness, each group member is given an opportunity to check-in and let the rest of the group know how their week has been, with an emphasis on skills tried and used. This can be an opportunity for group members to troubleshoot skills that were not as effective as they’d hoped or suggest alternate skills that may have been effective for the given situation or particular struggle. Group interaction and insight can be a particularly helpful addition to check-in. This can also be a time to review any homework or questions from the previous week’s group.
After a short break, the second half of the DBT group session is dedicated to learning a new skill. All DBT skills are separated into four main modules: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. These skills are taught with an emphasis on being effective in everyday life. Oftentimes real-life examples can be used to illustrate how each specific skill can be effective; group members are welcome to present a relevant personal situation where a skill may be useful to see its specific application if they so choose. As the founder of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, Marsha Linehan would say, the goal of DBT is to create “a life worth living.” Through the learning of skills and the support of the group, clients can be supported in gaining control of their lives and moving toward a life worth living.