Individual Sessions in DBT

What to Expect from Individual DBT Sessions

If you’re considering starting the comprehensive DBT program at the Cincinnati Center for DBT (CCDBT), you probably have a few questions about what you can expect.

One of your DBT Clinicians, Dr Desirae Allen, on the phone with a client providing 24/7 phone coaching through our Comprehensive DBT program

Pre-treatment orientation

The first 4-5 sessions in the DBT program are set up to orient you to DBT. While this can be frustrating for those who just want to dive in, research shows that a thorough orientation to DBT increases client outcomes, meaning, you are more likely to reach your goals. In this pre-treatment, you and your therapist will discuss what brings you to therapy and explore your goals. You’ll learn about the various parts of DBT and what you can expect from the program. You’ll be oriented to phone coaching and learn how to use this effectively. You’ll be taught how to use diary cards. You and your therapist will explore the agreements you each are expected to make for effective treatment, you will learn about skills training, and review other essentials like the reschedule policy, confidentiality, etc. Essentially, these first 4-5 sessions help you understand what you’re signing up for and see if you and your therapist are a good fit for each other.

Diary Cards

The diary card helps track your moods, target behaviors, skills used, and more from week to week. This helps you become more mindful of what you do on a day-to-day basis and can set the agenda for what will be discussed in therapy. They can help you and your therapist notice patterns in behavior, track progress, and hold you accountable for using skills from week-to-week.

Structure for individual sessions

Dr. Desirae Allen, DBT therapist, sitting in an accent chair across from a DBT client, providing adherent DBT

Each session is 60 minutes and you can plan on meeting with your therapist once a week. You’ll start by reviewing the diary card, which is expected to be filled out weekly. If it’s not done prior to session, your therapist will have you compete it in session. While reviewing the diary card your therapist will prioritize problematic behaviors to be explored. For example, self-harm will be discussed before relationship issues. You and your therapist will analyze and explore what leads up to problematic behaviors and learn skills and where to interject those skills to avoid problematic behavior in the future. The two of you will problem-solve current situations and life stressors. Basically, your therapist will help you learn how to incorporate DBT skills to your personal life so that you can get closer to your goals.

The role of the therapist

The therapeutic relationship is a relationship between equals and is a powerful part of the therapy.  You and your therapist will make agreements and commitments to each other and you both will have the opportunity to hold each other accountable for holding up their end of the agreements. This can empower you to speak your mind when your therapist makes a mistake, isn’t clear, doesn’t do something they said they’d do, or if there are issues in the therapeutic relationship. All of these things can be translated into the “real world” and can help you in relationships outside of therapy.  You can expect your therapist to hold you accountable to the agreements as well. DBT also calls therapists to be radically genuine and self-disclose in DBT, which can allow for a deeper and more meaningful relationship than you may have experienced in other forms of therapy.

About the Author

Maria Mangione (she/her), M.A., LPCC is a licensed clinical counselor that specializes in dialectical behavior therapy. Maria works to help people develop the tools they need to develop trust in themselves and build their life worth living. Maria believes in having meaningful connections with her clients and believes that therapy and healing can be fun. Click Here to learn more about Maria’s experience and therapeutic style.