Dialectical Behaviour Therapy has been increasing in popularity over the last decade and is now recognized as a powerful treatment tool for mental illnesses such as borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder. But a new DBT trial shows the therapy may not be as helpful as previously thought, although it might also be more helpful than previously thought.
The trial involved 1200 participants from several clinics, each who participated in the full DBT program as initially conceived by Dr. Marsha M. Linehan. All participants said that the program helped them immensely in overcoming their issues, but they also said that the program did not help them at all and made their issues worse.
“The clients I worked with put so much effort into making positive change in their lives, and it was so satisfying to see their success,” said Dr. Linda Pikeman, a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “It almost made up for the fact that my clients didn’t try at all to make positive changes in their lives, and watching them fail was entirely ungratifying.”
“Now I have all these skills I can use to calm myself down and organize my thoughts, it really helps me be more objective,” said 19-year-old Michelle Redman, who just finished her first course of DBT. “It’s just awesome, although if I had to take a more balanced view, I would say that it also has stripped me of all my coping skills, made me a nervous wreck, and blinded me from the bigger picture.”
While those who were actively involved in the study had strong views about it, researchers at the University of Toronto were unable to successfully interpret the data.
“Every time we run the numbers we get the same results: the treatment is both extremely effective and extremely ineffective,” said Dr. Mark Barthes, a clinical psychologist specializing in DBT. “It’s remarkable. I’ve never seen an experiment whose results are simultaneously significant and insignificant. This is either the most important DBT research to date, or an absolutely abysmal study with no relevance whatsoever. As scientists, we’re trying to forge a middle path here, but it’s harder than it looks.”