Different Types of Therapies: CBT, DBT, ACT

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common forms of psychotherapy used today. It normally lasts for a defined period of time and has been found to be an effective treatment for anxiety and depression, often as effective or more so than medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a combination of two different therapies: behavioral therapy and cognitive therapy. It works to change thought processes and therefore change undesired behaviors. Over the years, this type of therapy has been changed and modified and new forms of therapy, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) have been added to the types of therapies you can choose from.

Types of Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) - Focus on identifying, recognizing and changing unhealthy and unhelpful thought patterns and thereby changing behaviors that are associated with the negative thought patterns. Exposure therapy is often used in CBT for anxiety, for example, if you are afraid of dogs, you will be slowly introduced to a dog - first through a picture, then across the room, then next to you until you can confront your fear and understand that your anxiety will lessen with time, providing skills for coping with past, present and future fears.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) - Developed to treat those with suicidal thoughts and actions, this type of therapy validates current thought patterns while coaching the patient to change unhealthy behaviors. This type of therapy uses mindfulness: working to accept your problems while at the same time taking steps to address the problems. It involves two therapy sessions each week; an individual psychotherapy session and a weekly group session where four specific skills are taught: interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance/reality acceptance skills, emotion regulation and mindfulness.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) - Developed as a mindfulness approach, this type of therapy works to accept thoughts and emotions, without judgement, distance who you are from what you think, such as changing, "I am an anxious person," to "I am feeling anxious because of my current situation." You are also expected to make a commitment to change unhealthy behaviors. While similar to DBT, the exercises and techniques used during therapy sessions are different.

Both DBT and ACT were developed as offshoots of CBT so both contain much of the same concepts but have added the mindfulness approach. This is done to validate thoughts, rather than see them as a negative reflection on who you are as a person. Once thoughts are accepted, without judgement, as separate from who the individual is, they can be changed. In both DBT and ACT, you must make a commitment to actively be involved in therapy and to actively make changes.

While all types of therapy can "look back" into your past experiences, all three of these therapies work more in the present. Your history may be explored to better understand how your past experiences impact your present, however, none of these focus on the past. Rather, CBT, DBT and ACT all work to identify, recognize and change unhelpful current thought patterns. The methods of making positive changes, however, are different in each type.

Over the next few weeks, we will explore DBT and ACT in more detail.


"Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - Dialectical Behavior Therapy," 2005, April, Staff Writer, Harvard Health Publications

"Differences/SImilarities Between ACT/DBT," Date Unknown, Jason Luoma, Association for Contextual Behavioral Science

"How is CBT Related to DBT & ACT?," Date Unknown, Ilyse Dobrow DiMarco, Ph.D., NJCBT.com

"Psychotherapies," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, National Institutes of Mental Health

"What's the Difference Between CBT and DBT?, Date Unknown, John M. Grohol, Psy.D., PsychCentral.com

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.