Read Our 2023 Annual Outcomes Report

A woman in a blue sweater considers how to use DBT to manage depression.

A Guide to Managing Depression With DBT

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) teaches people how to manage emotions and relationships—skills especially helpful for those with depression. Learn more about the benefits of DBT for depression here.


share icon Facebook logo LinkedIn logo

How DBT treats depression

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) treats depression by helping people develop skills to regulate their emotions, cope with distress, and improve interpersonal relationships. By learning mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness, people can better manage their depressive symptoms. DBT also emphasizes the importance of creating a life worth living by setting and working towards meaningful goals and values. Through both individual therapy and skills training groups, people with a depressive disorder can gain a deeper understanding of their mental health condition and learn practical strategies to improve their quality of life.

Skills taught in DBT for depression 

Skills taught in DBT for depression are as follows:


Mindfulness is a core DBT skill. It involves practicing being present in the moment without judgment. People learn how to observe their thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations without getting caught up in them. This skill helps people with depression become more aware of their thoughts and feelings and respond to them in a non-reactive and skillful way.

Distress tolerance

Distress tolerance skills are designed to help people cope with intense emotions and distressing situations without making them worse. These skills, which benefit people with depression, involve learning to tolerate and survive crises without resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms. People also learn to accept reality as it is rather than fighting against it.

Emotion regulation

Emotion regulation skills are focused on helping people with depression identify and manage their emotions in a healthy way. This includes learning to label and understand emotions, as well as taking steps to change them when necessary. People also learn to reduce emotional vulnerability and build positive experiences to counteract negative emotions.

Interpersonal effectiveness

Interpersonal effectiveness skills are aimed at helping people communicate assertively and maintain healthy relationships. People with depression learn how to set boundaries, ask for what they want or need, and say no when necessary. This skill also focuses on how to balance priorities and maintain self-respect in relationships.

Cognitive restructuring

Cognitive restructuring involves challenging and changing unhelpful thinking patterns—a DBT skill that is useful for those with depression. People learn to identify and challenge negative thoughts and develop more balanced and realistic ways of thinking about themselves, their life, and their future. This skill also includes learning to recognize cognitive distortions and replace depressive thoughts with more accurate interpretations.


Self-compassion is an important aspect of DBT for depression. People learn to treat themselves with kindness and compassion, especially during times of struggle. This involves learning to be understanding and forgiving towards oneself rather than engaging in self-criticism or harsh judgment. Remember: healing from a mental health condition is a journey that takes time. 

Benefits of DBT for depression 

People who receive DBT for depression often experience long-term benefits such as improved emotion regulation, decreased suicidal ideation, and increased overall life satisfaction. By learning and practicing DBT skills, people are better equipped to manage difficult emotions, navigate challenging relationships, and cope with stressors in their daily lives. Over time, these skills can lead to a significant reduction in depressive symptoms and a greater sense of resilience and well-being.

How quickly does DBT work for depression? 

Many people with depression report noticing positive changes in their mood and overall well-being within a few weeks of starting DBT. People often experience a reduction in depression symptoms and an improved ability to cope with difficult emotions and situations. With consistent attendance and active participation in therapy, people can see significant improvements in their mental health and depression symptoms over the course of several months.

How is medication used to treat depression

Medication is commonly used to treat depression by helping to regulate the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and norepinephrine. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often prescribed to increase the levels of serotonin in the brain, which can improve mood and reduce symptoms. Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) work on both serotonin and norepinephrine levels, while tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are older classes of medications that are typically used when other treatments have been unsuccessful. These different medications can be an important tool in helping people manage their symptoms and regain a sense of well-being.

Other types of treatments for depression 

In addition to DBT and medication, some other types of treatments for depression are as follows: 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to depression. In a therapy session, people learn to identify and challenge their negative thinking, as well as develop coping skills to manage their symptoms.

Interpersonal therapy (IPT) 

IPT focuses on improving relationships and communication skills to ease symptoms of depression. It helps people address and resolve interpersonal issues that may be contributing to their depression, such as conflicts with loved ones or difficulties in social situations.

Mindfulness-based therapy

Mindfulness-based therapies, such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) or mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), teach people mindfulness skills that help them pay attention to the present moment without judgment. These mindfulness skills can help people manage their symptoms of depression by reducing stress and increasing self-awareness.

Art therapy

Art therapy involves using creative methods, such as drawing, painting, or sculpting, to express and work through emotional issues. An art therapy session can provide a non-verbal outlet for people to explore and process their feelings of depression and can be a way to discover new coping strategies and self-expression.

Intensive outpatient program for depression 

An intensive outpatient program (IOP) may be used to treat people with depression when traditional outpatient therapy or medication management is not providing sufficient relief. IOP provides more structured and intensive therapy and support than regular outpatient therapy while still allowing people to continue with their daily commitments. Through CBT, DBT, and group therapy, people in IOP learn coping skills, emotional regulation techniques, and relapse prevention strategies to help manage their symptoms and improve their overall well-being.

Treatment for depression at Charlie Health 

If a young person in your life is struggling with a depressive disorder, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health offers a virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) that provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people and families dealing with complex mental health conditions, including depression. Our expert clinicians incorporate dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With this kind of holistic depression treatment, managing depression is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start depression treatment today. 

Charlie Health shield logo

Comprehensive mental health treatment from home

90% of Charlie Health clients and their families would recommend Charlie Health

Girl smiling talking to her mother

We're building treatment plans as unique as you.