DBT Encyclopedia

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Dialectical Behavior Therapy has its own set of terminology. It can be confusing and inaccessible, especially when you’re just beginning. Don’t worry, though, DBTselfhelp has your back. We’ve created an encyclopedia! It’s a key to help you figure out what the h*ck DBT is talking about.

DBT Lingo


Dialectics is the idea that two opposing things can be true at once. This knowledge is central to Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It helps reduce Black-and-White Thinking and may take some time to accept.

For example, one Dialectical DBT mantra is ‘I am doing the best that I can AND I can do better.’ Both things are true at once, even though it may seem they can’t be.


Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills are divided into 4 modules designed to treat 4 typical issues of folks with Borderline Personality Disorder. The 4 modules are Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation, Interpersonal Effectiveness.


Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a skills-based therapy. That means it teaches coping skills. Skills are behaviors or ways of thinking that you can use to withstand difficult emotions or just generally improve your life. They are meant to be praticed regularly until they become natural.

Emotion Dysregulation

Emotion Dysregulation is when your emotions are not regulated. This means you may feel like your emotions are going all over the place and are out of your control. Many people with different diagnoses or no diagnosis at all experience this. The DBT module Emotion Regulation is specifically designed to address this issue with the help of the other 3 modules.


An acronym is an abbreviation formed from the letters of the words it inclues. DBT has a ton of acronyms that are many skills or steps contained in a single word.

For example, IMPROVE is a Distress Tolerance acronym skill. Each letter in the word ‘improve’ stands for a part of the skill. In this case, you can choose whatever part of the skill, or which letter, you want to use. In the case of DEAR MAN, you are meant to use each letter in the order it appears.


Willing is the adjective form of the Distress Tolerance skill Willingness. If you are Willing, you are open to change and growth. You are open to trying something new on behalf of your goals. Being Willing is key to learning DBT. The treatment requires work and practice. What you put in is what you will get out. For that reason, you must be Willing.


Effective is the adjective form of the DBT Mindfulness How skill of Effectively. Being Effective means doing what is best for yourself in the moment. DBT tries to withhold judgment. That’s why we try to avoid using the terms ‘healthy,’ ‘unhealthy,’ ‘good,’ or ‘bad’ when describing behaviors or coping skills. Your old coping skills are likely ineffective. They may serve you in the moment but do not align with or may even inhibit your long term goals. DBT provides effective coping skills to use instead.

Try to reflect on your choices by asking yourself ‘is this effective’?



BPD stands for Borderline Personality Disorder. DBT was originally created to treat BPD but has expanded to help people with many other issues.


DT stands for the DBT module Distress Tolerance.


ER stands for the DBT module Emotion Regulation.


IE stands for the DBT module Interpersonal Effectiveness.


ACCEPTS is a Distress Tolerance skill. It stands for Activities, Contribute, Comparison, Emotions, Pushing Away, Thoughts, Sensations.


IMPROVE is a Distress Tolerance skill. It stands for Imagery, Meaning, Prayer, Relaxation, One thing at a time, Vacation, Encouragement.


ABC PLEASE is an Emotion Regulation skill. It stands for Accumulate positives, Build mastery, Cope ahead, treat PhysicaL illness, balanced Eating, Avoid mood-altering substances, balanced Sleep, balanced Exercise.


DEAR MAN is an Interpersonal Effectiveness skill for obtaining your objective. It stands for Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce, be Mindful, Appear confident, Negotiate.


GIVE is an Interpersonal Effectiveness skill to maintain a relationship. It stands for be Gentle, act Interested, Validate, use an Easy manner.


FAST is an Interpersonal Effectiveness skill for maintaing self-respect. It stands for be Fair, no Apologies, Stick to values, be Truthful.

Additional Resources

Mental Health Resources
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DBT Flashcards

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DBT Encyclopedia

DBT has its own lingo which can be hard to understand for beginners. Visit our homemade DBT Encyclopedia to figure out what a term means. Read More

Mindfulness Exercises

Mindfulness practice is key to DBT. You don't have to meditate in silence everyday, though. Try these Mindfulness exercises to guide you. Read More

Diary Cards

Diary cards help track your emotions, urges, behaviors, and skill use. They help you see patterns. Learn how to use them and get samples. Read More


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