Difference Between Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)?


Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) are two distinct therapeutic approaches with different focuses, techniques, and treatment durations.

When seeking therapy, it’s important to understand the different approaches available to address specific mental health concerns. Two commonly used therapies are Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Interpersonal Therapy (IPT). Although both therapies aim to improve mental well-being, they have distinct approaches and techniques. This article explores the differences between DBT and IPT, helping you make an informed decision when considering therapy options.

Components of DBT

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

DBT, developed by psychologist Marsha M. Linehan, is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals regulate emotions, manage distress, and improve interpersonal relationships. It was originally designed to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD) but has proven effective for various mental health conditions.

DBT comprises several components that work together to provide comprehensive treatment. These components include:

  • Individual Therapy: Individual therapy sessions allow clients to work closely with a therapist to address personal challenges, set goals, and develop coping strategies.
  • Group Skills Training: Group skills training sessions teach individuals essential skills, such as emotion regulation, distress tolerance, mindfulness, and interpersonal effectiveness.
  • Phone Coaching: Phone coaching provides clients with support between therapy sessions, allowing them to apply learned skills in real-life situations.
  • Therapist Consultation Team: Therapist consultation team meetings enable therapists to enhance their skills and ensure effective treatment delivery.

Understanding IPT

Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) is a time-limited therapy that focuses on improving interpersonal relationships and alleviating symptoms related to specific mental health issues. It aims to help individuals resolve problems in their relationships and enhance their communication skills.

Principles of IPT

IPT is based on the following principles:

1. Social and Interpersonal Context

IPT recognizes that social and interpersonal factors significantly influence an individual’s mental health and well-being.

2. Symptom-Relationship Connection

IPT addresses the connection between an individual’s symptoms and interpersonal relationships, recognizing how one can affect the other.

Techniques Used in IPT

IPT utilizes various techniques to achieve therapeutic goals, including:

1. Assessment

Assessment helps therapists understand the client’s social and interpersonal context, identifying areas that require improvement.

2. Communication Analysis

Communication analysis focuses on identifying patterns of communication and resolving misunderstandings or conflicts.

3. Role-Playing

Role-playing exercises help clients practice effective communication and problem-solving skills in a safe therapeutic environment.

Comparing DBT and IPT

While both DBT and IPT are therapeutic approaches, they differ in their target population, focus, goals, treatment duration, and effectiveness.

Target Population

DBT is primarily used to treat individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) but has also been effective in addressing other conditions, such as eating disorders, substance abuse, and depression. On the other hand, IPT is suitable for a broader range of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Focus and Goals

DBT focuses on emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal skills development. Its primary goal is to help individuals achieve a stable sense of self, improve relationships, and manage intense emotions effectively.

In contrast, IPT concentrates on improving interpersonal relationships and resolving specific problems within those relationships. The goal is to enhance communication skills, address conflicts, and alleviate symptoms related to the interpersonal context.

Treatment Duration

DBT is typically a longer-term therapy, often spanning over a year or more, as it involves individual therapy, group skills training, and continuous therapist consultation team meetings. The comprehensive nature of DBT requires an extended treatment duration to address various aspects of an individual’s life.

IPT, on the other hand, is a time-limited therapy usually conducted over a period of 12 to 16 weeks. The structured and focused approach of IPT allows for shorter treatment durations, making it a more time-efficient option for individuals seeking symptom relief within a defined timeframe.


Both DBT and IPT have demonstrated effectiveness in treating specific mental health conditions.

DBT has been extensively researched and proven effective in reducing self-harming behaviors, suicidal tendencies, and improving overall emotional well-being in individuals with a borderline personality disorder. It has also shown promising results in treating other conditions, such as substance abuse, eating disorders, and mood disorders.

IPT, on the other hand, has been found to be effective in treating depression, particularly in its interpersonal variant. It focuses on resolving interpersonal difficulties that contribute to or exacerbate depressive symptoms. IPT has also shown positive outcomes in addressing other mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders and PTSD.

Choosing the Right Therapy

Difference Between Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)

When deciding between DBT and IPT, several factors need to be considered, including the specific mental health condition, individual needs and preferences, treatment goals, and available resources.

If an individual is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder or struggles with emotional dysregulation, intense interpersonal difficulties, and self-harm behaviors, DBT may be a suitable choice. Its comprehensive approach and focus on emotion regulation and interpersonal skills can provide the necessary support for long-term recovery.

On the other hand, if an individual’s primary concern revolves around interpersonal conflicts, relationship problems, and symptoms related to those issues, IPT may be a more appropriate option. Its time-limited nature and emphasis on interpersonal problem-solving can help address these specific challenges effectively.

Ultimately, the decision should be made in consultation with a mental health professional who can assess the individual’s unique needs and recommend the most suitable therapeutic approach.


Can DBT be used to treat conditions other than borderline personality disorder?

Yes, DBT has been found effective in addressing various conditions, including eating disorders, substance abuse, and depression.

Is IPT a long-term therapy?

No, IPT is a time-limited therapy typically conducted over 12 to 16 weeks, focusing on resolving interpersonal difficulties and improving communication skills.

Are DBT and IPT suitable for children and adolescents?

Both DBT and IPT can be adapted for use with children and adolescents. However, specific modifications may be necessary to accommodate the developmental needs of younger individuals.

 Are DBT and IPT effective in treating anxiety disorders?

While DBT has shown effectiveness in managing symptoms related to anxiety disorders, IPT is not primarily designed to address anxiety. Other therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), maybe more commonly used for anxiety disorders.

 Can DBT and IPT be combined or used together?

It is possible to integrate elements of DBT and IPT, depending on the individual’s needs and treatment goals. In some cases, a therapist may incorporate techniques from both therapies to provide a more comprehensive approach tailored to the client.

Is one therapy better than the other?

The effectiveness of therapy depends on various factors, including the individual’s specific needs, the nature of the mental health condition, and the therapeutic relationship. Both DBT and IPT have proven efficacy in treating specific conditions, but the choice should be based on a thorough assessment and discussion with a qualified mental health professional.

How can I find a therapist who offers DBT or IPT?

To find a therapist specializing in DBT or IPT, you can start by contacting mental health clinics, psychology or psychiatry departments in hospitals, or searching online directories of licensed mental health professionals. It is essential to ensure that the therapist has proper training and experience in the specific therapy approach.

Disclaimer: The article is a general overview of both Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), and you should not replace professional advice. If you or someone you know is in need of therapy, it is recommended to seek the guidance of a qualified mental health professional.


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