The latest research, learnings, and insight on mental health.

Exploring Psychotherapy Modalities: CBT, DBT, ACT, and More

Psychotherapy is a valuable tool that can help individuals navigate and manage a variety of mental health concerns. Several types of psychotherapy have gained prominence over the years, with acronyms such as CBT, DBT, and ACT becoming more familiar. In this article, we will explore these therapeutic modalities, discuss what the acronyms stand for, and explain how they can benefit individuals seeking mental health support.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a widely-used approach that targets both thought patterns (cognition) and behaviors. The central idea is that dysfunctional thinking can lead to negative emotions and maladaptive behaviors, which can be addressed by identifying and challenging those thoughts.1

CBT is a short-term, goal-oriented therapy that has been effective in treating conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders.2 By focusing on changing thought patterns and behaviors, individuals can develop healthier coping mechanisms and improve their overall mental health.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy, is a modification of CBT that was initially developed to treat individuals with borderline personality disorder.3 Over time, DBT has been adapted to address other mental health issues, including eating disorders, substance abuse, and self-harm behaviors.

DBT integrates CBT techniques with mindfulness and acceptance strategies, focusing on the dialectical balance between acceptance and change. The therapy includes four main components:4

  • Mindfulness
  • Emotion regulation
  • Distress tolerance
  • Interpersonal effectiveness

Clients work with a therapist in individual and group sessions to build skills in these areas, which can help improve emotional stability, enhance relationships, and promote a more fulfilling life.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a newer form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that emphasizes mindfulness, acceptance, and value-based living. Developed by Steven C. Hayes in the late 1980s, ACT seeks to help individuals accept their thoughts and feelings, rather than trying to change or control them.5

The primary goal of ACT is to increase psychological flexibility, allowing individuals to take action in accordance with their values, even in the presence of challenging thoughts and emotions. This is achieved through six core processes:6

  • Acceptance
  • Cognitive defusion
  • Being present
  • Self-as-context
  • Values
  • Committed action

Research has shown that ACT is effective in treating a variety of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.7

Other Common Psychotherapy Modalities

In addition to CBT, DBT, and ACT, there are several other well-known psychotherapy modalities that can be effective in addressing mental health concerns. Here are a few more examples:

  1. Psychodynamic Therapy: This approach is rooted in the theories of Sigmund Freud and focuses on the role of unconscious processes in shaping an individual's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Psychodynamic therapy seeks to uncover the underlying patterns and conflicts that contribute to a person's psychological distress.8 By developing insight into these patterns, clients can gain greater self-awareness and work towards personal growth and change.
  2. Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT): IPT is a time-limited, evidence-based therapy that targets interpersonal issues related to mental health problems. It is particularly effective in treating depression and has been adapted for various other conditions, such as eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.9 IPT focuses on helping clients identify and resolve interpersonal difficulties, improve communication skills, and build social support networks.
  3. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): Developed by Francine Shapiro in the 1980s, EMDR is a trauma-focused therapy that aims to help clients process and integrate distressing memories and experiences.10 EMDR uses a combination of guided eye movements, mental imagery, and mindfulness techniques to help clients reduce the emotional impact of traumatic events and promote healing. Research has demonstrated that EMDR can be effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related issues.11


Psychotherapy offers a diverse range of modalities to address various mental health concerns. CBT, DBT, and ACT are just a few of the evidence-based approaches that have gained recognition for their effectiveness in helping individuals improve their mental wellbeing. Understanding the different types of therapy and their underlying principles can be instrumental in selecting the right approach for one's unique needs. It is important to consult with a mental health professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan.

_ _ _


  1. Beck, J. S. (2011). Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Second Edition: Basics and Beyond. Guilford Press.
  2. Hofmann, S. G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I. J. J., Sawyer, A. T., & Fang, A. (2012). The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 36(5), 427–440. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-012-9476-1
  3. Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. Guilford Press.
  4. Linehan, M. (2014). DBT Skills Training Manual, Second Edition. Guilford Publications.
  5. Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (1999). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change. Guilford Press.
  6. Hayes, S. J., Luoma, J. B., Bond, F. W., Masuda, A., & Lillis, J. (2006). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Model, processes and outcomes. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44(1), 1–25. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2005.06.006
  7. A-Tjak, J., Davis, M. L., Morina, N., Powers, M. B., Smits, J. a. J., & Emmelkamp, P. M. (2015). A Meta-Analysis of the Efficacy of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Clinically Relevant Mental and Physical Health Problems. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 84(1), 30–36. https://doi.org/10.1159/000365764
  8. Shedler, J. (2010). The efficacy of psychodynamic psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 65(2), 98–109. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018378
  9. Cuijpers, P., Geraedts, A. C. M., Van Oppen, P., Andersson, G., Markowitz, J. C., & Van Straten, A. (2011). Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Depression: A Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Psychiatry, 168(6), 581–592. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2010.10101411
  10. Shapiro, F. (2014). The Role of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy in Medicine: Addressing the Psychological and Physical Symptoms Stemming from Adverse Life Experiences. The Permanente Journal, 18(1), 71–77. https://doi.org/10.7812/tpp/13-098
  11. Chen, Y., Hung, K. S., Tsai, J. C., Chu, H., Chung, M. Y., Chen, S., Liao, Y., Ou, K. L., Chang, Y., & Chou, K. R. (2014). Efficacy of Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing for Patients with Posttraumatic-Stress Disorder: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. PLOS ONE, 9(8), e103676. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0103676

Cover photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


The latest research, learnings, and insight on mental health, curated by Dr. Hillary Lin.

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