Interpersonal Effectiveness in DBT: Learning to Think and Act Dialectically


DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness: Learning to Think and Act Dialectically


Interpersonal effectiveness is a fundamental aspect of our daily lives. The way we communicate and interact with others can significantly impact our relationships, emotional well-being, and overall quality of life. For individuals struggling with emotional regulation and complex mental health challenges developing effective interpersonal skills can be particularly challenging. However, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) offers a powerful framework for learning to think and act dialectically in our interactions with others.

Origins of DBT

DBT, developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan in the 1980s, was initially designed to treat individuals with BPD. However, it has since been adapted to address various mental health issues characterized by emotional dysregulation and problematic interpersonal relationships. DBT is rooted in the concept of dialectics, which means finding a balance between seemingly opposing viewpoints or behaviors. In the context of interpersonal effectiveness, this means learning to navigate the fine line between assertiveness and understanding, validation and change, and self-respect and maintaining relationships.


Dialectics is a philosophical and cognitive approach that emphasizes the synthesis of opposing or contradictory ideas and concepts. It involves the process of reconciling and finding a balance between seemingly conflicting viewpoints, rather than viewing them as mutually exclusive. In the context of psychology and therapeutic approaches like Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), dialectics plays a crucial role in promoting effective thinking and problem-solving. 


Dialectical thinking, with its focus on finding a balance between seemingly contradictory ideas or viewpoints, can be applied in everyday life to reduce suffering and promote emotional well-being. Here are some examples of dialectical thinking that can help in this regard:

Dialectical Thinking Examples

  1. Acceptance and Change: Dialectical thinking encourages the acceptance of things that cannot be changed while striving for change in areas where it is possible. For example, if you’re facing a chronic illness, you can accept the reality of your condition while actively working on managing your symptoms and improving your quality of life.
  2. Validation and Self-Improvement: Rather than seeing validation and self-improvement as opposing concepts, dialectical thinking combines them. You can validate your current abilities and progress while simultaneously seeking opportunities for growth and development.
  3. Forgiveness and Accountability: In interpersonal conflicts, dialectical thinking allows you to forgive someone for their actions while holding them accountable for their behavior. This approach can lead to resolution and reduced suffering by acknowledging the complexity of human relationships.
  4. Embracing Complexity: Instead of simplifying situations into “right” or “wrong,” dialectical thinking encourages you to embrace the complexity of life. Recognize that most issues have multiple facets and that understanding them fully requires considering different viewpoints and shades of gray.
  5. Balancing Self-Care and Responsibilities: Dialectical thinking helps individuals find a balance between self-care and fulfilling their responsibilities. While it’s essential to take care of yourself, it’s also important to honor your commitments and obligations to others.
  6. Acknowledging Emotional Complexity: Emotions are rarely entirely positive or entirely negative. Dialectical thinking allows you to acknowledge and validate the complexity of your emotions. For instance, you can feel both sadness and relief after the end of a challenging relationship.
  7. Short-Term and Long-Term Goals: Dialectical thinking helps you consider both short-term and long-term goals simultaneously. It allows you to prioritize immediate needs while keeping your long-term aspirations in mind. This approach can reduce the stress of feeling torn between the two.
  8. Balance Between Control and Surrender: Life often presents situations where you can exert control and others where you must surrender to uncertainty. Dialectical thinking teaches you to find the balance between taking action where you can and letting go where necessary, reducing anxiety and suffering.
  9. Acknowledging Personal Responsibility and External Factors: Instead of placing all blame on yourself or external circumstances, dialectical thinking encourages a recognition of both personal responsibility and the influence of external factors in shaping outcomes.
  10. Balancing Optimism and Realism: Dialectical thinking helps you strike a balance between optimism and realism. You can maintain a positive outlook while also recognizing the challenges and obstacles that may arise.
  11. Self-Compassion and Accountability: Dialectical thinking enables you to be compassionate toward yourself while holding yourself accountable for your actions. This approach promotes self-growth without excessive self-criticism.
  12. Appreciating the Present Moment and Planning for the Future: Dialectical thinking allows you to enjoy the present moment while also planning for the future. It prevents the suffering that can arise from either obsessing over the future or neglecting it entirely.

Dialectical Thinking Can Improve Your Life!

Incorporating dialectical thinking into daily life can lead to reduced suffering and improved emotional well-being. This mindset fosters resilience, emotional regulation, and a more balanced and flexible approach to various life situations and emotions.

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