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Dialectical Behavioral Therapy & 12 Step Mutual Aid Groups

If you have acquired frequent flyer miles in the world of treatment, you are probably familiar with the worlds of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and 12 Step models like Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous. DBT utilizes emotional regulation, mindfulness, and coping skills to address problematic patterns in our thoughts, actions, and relationships. Anyone with some step work under their belt knows this is also a pragmatic description of what the 12 Step Process has provided for almost a century.  

12 Step Model

The 12 Step model sums itself up as “a spiritual approach to recovery,” and the old-timey wording of the steps does not represent the cumulative skills therein. Still, the founders of AA were applying what was working to treat alcohol on a peer level. Psychology caught up, and we can now see some of the science behind these peer support methods quantified in DBT.  

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

In DBT, we see the concept of interpersonal effectiveness, in which we identify unmanageability in how we respond and react to others, then practice skills to improve relationships. These skills are cultivated in the rooms, facilitated by a group atmosphere, sponsorship, and peer network. Each step encourages self-exploration and also carries a “spiritual principle” such as acceptance, responsibility, hope, honesty, and willingness.  

These principles can serve as examples of DBT’s distress tolerance skills. When practiced over time and reinforced by connection to the recovery community, they can strengthen our thought processes and birth coping skills. The mindfulness encouraged in DBT is provided by the self-maintenance and meditation practiced in the later steps. The overall goal of both 12 Step Programs and DBT is to improve our ability to align who we are with who we want to be. Whether we are applying science or spirituality, we get out of these programs what we put into them.