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How can multiple therapeutic options be as effective in treating mental health issues.

Whilst many different therapies have been devised to treat certain disorders and alleviate a specific set of symptoms, they have all been created with one motivation – to alleviate the pain of those suffering and protect them and others from harm. This article will focus on two therapies created to treat different disorders but both aiming at boosting emotional regulation; Dialectical Behavioural Therapy and Emotion Focused Therapy.

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) was developed by Dr Marsha Linehan, whose personal story is extremely powerful and uplifting. As a teenager, at the young age of 17, Dr Linehan was admitted into a psychiatric clinic, was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and “treated” with a range of psychiatric drugs with significant side effects as well as electro-convulsive therapy.

Later the diagnosis was revised to Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), and now Dr Linehan is widely credited with creating the most effective clinical therapy for BPD. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is recommended by NICE guidelines for those struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder.

DBT focuses on the development of emotional regulation, which paves the way for the development of a stabilised sense of self – something many BPD sufferers struggle with. One example of a coping mechanism DBT would teach a patient diagnosed with BPD is to hold ice cubes in their hands when they feel an urge to self-harm.

Essentially the most important aspect of the therapy is acceptance. The therapist accepts the individual’s desire to self-harm/engage in risky behaviours and the patient also learns to accept these feelings, but ultimately to not engage in them. A patient comes to see how it may be rational to want to hurt themselves when they are in emotional distress – because they want to shift their focus from the emotional distress to anything else (even physical pain) – but they learn that there are more constructive ways that they can achieve the same aim.

Ice cubes provide some physical pain but do not cause long-term damage to the individual. This can provide a stepping stone for patients to find coping mechanisms that they can utilise anywhere and at any time. DBT also includes a group-skills training element, which provides a space for patients to learn to form healthier interpersonal relationships with others, as well as providing social support and helping them realise that they are not alone in their struggles.

Emotion focused therapy (EFT) is similar, as it aims at increasing awareness of emotions and accepting them and is usually employed in the treatment of depression. In EFT, The therapist’s main concern is to follow the client’s process and to identify core pain and markers of current emotional concerns, rather than to formulate a picture of the client’s enduring personality or character or a core pattern”. Simply put, EFT allows you to explore your emotions in an unbiased way and deal with them therapeutically.

Thus, whilst EFT and DBT are similar in their aims, they target different issues in different ways. DBT focuses on challenging harmful behaviour like self-harm which is very prevalent amongst BPD sufferers through a process of boosting emotional self-regulation, mindfulness and developing healthier coping mechanisms to deal with emotional pain. On the other hand, EFT focuses on emotions and is thus more suited to challenge conditions where behaviour is not necessarily an issue; depressed individuals may simply need to address the feeling of emptiness or numbness they feel and may not engage in any behaviour that could be deemed as a threat to the self or others.

We must note that the theoretical basis of different therapies are complex, and this brief discussion is incredibly over-simplified.

What makes things even more confusing is that sometimes a person may experience a symptom which is not covered by their primary diagnosis and this needs to be tackled in a different way. We always recommend that people seek professional advice and not be afraid to ask questions if referred for therapy or other treatment. The therapeutic relationship is so important, so don’t shy away from telling your therapist how you are feeling, or if you’d prefer not to speak about something just yet or what your worries are.

It can be difficult to believe it sometimes, especially in a bad mental state, but people do care about you.

So, while it can be difficult to open up, remember that this individual has chosen this career because that want to alleviate people’s emotional suffering.

Have you ever explored different therapeutic options, such as DBT or EFT, for your mental wellbeing?

Farida El Kafrawy

Farida is an undergraduate student studying social and political science at UCL. Having seen many struggle with their mental health, and having experienced poor mental health herself, she believes that it is important to speak up, destigmatise the topic and, inshallah, help others to understand what is happening, and how they can help themselves and others. As a regular reader of the Inspirited Minds blog, she knows first hand how reassuring it is to read an article addressing what you are experiencing with your faith in mind, and she hopes she can help reassure and support others in turn.


  • Nayyab says:

    I am a facilitator of a DBT skills group and we have people who have a diagnosis of BPD or those without a diagnosis but struggle to regulate their emotions. DBT requires alot of practice but the benefits are huge!

    • Farida El Kafrawy says:

      Thank you for your comment! Totally agree all therapies require a lot of effort but it can be absolutely life changing, much respect for the work you are doing!

  • Shehla says:

    Salaam Farida,
    I have used one of the DBT cocept, i. e. The reasonable mind, emotional mind and wise mind.
    I have worked with clients who take decisions quickly and regret it later, also with clients who want to please other people, or want to be liked by other people, also for people who are unable to say ‘no’.
    I always talk about the pause button or having time out, whether for few minutes, hours or days. So if a person asks someone to do something, they might feel pressurised with the above mentioned things and may react to their own emotional needs to be accepted, likened or the need to please, and say ‘Yes’.
    By taking time out, the person has time to reason, check their emotions, and their diary if they are able to do what that person asked them to do. Basically using the wise mind to make the decision, allowing the wise mind to make decisions.
    I like using different approaches and it helps me to help stuck clients.

    • Farida El Kafrawy says:

      We alaykum assalam, thanks so much for sharing Shehla, really interesting and beneficial concept. Much respect for the work you are doing to change peoples lives with this therapy!

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