Group Therapy: Leveraging Peer Support in DBT Skills Training


Layla Team

June 30, 2022

 What is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)? How Does It Help?

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is a type of evidence-based therapy that derives from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and includes mindfulness and acceptance-based strategies in treatment. DBT was designed in the 1970s by psychologist Dr. Marsha Linehan who herself was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). DBT was first developed as a treatment for BPD, but it is now widely used to treat other mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression and mood disorders. DBT therapy can be delivered in a variety of formats, including individual therapy, skills groups, phone coaching and consultation teams.


DBT Groups & Peer Support

One of the primary goals of DBT is to support clients in the development of four types of DBT skills. These skills revolve around mindfulness, distress tolerance, managing emotions and interpersonal effectiveness. To read about each DBT skill in more detail, check out this blog post.


Because social interactions are a central component of DBT, group settings can be an especially valuable place to learn and practice DBT skills. Mental health challenges can feel extremely isolating – it can also be easy to feel like no one understands what we’re going through or can relate to our personal challenges. Even if we know that the reality is that many people experience similar struggles, tackling these struggles in a group context and sharing experiences in a safe space can make that truth feel much more real to us. Clients often note that one of the most helpful aspects of engaging in DBT skills group is the opportunity to hear one another’s stories and learn from their peers by hearing how they implement DBT skills in their personal lives. This adds an additional layer of practicality to the therapy - participants get to see what they’re learning be applied and adapted to real-life contexts. Groups can also allow for the opportunity to build a sense of community and lean on support from peers.


“I was feeling very low and depressed prior to the group. This session helped lift my spirits.”  - DBT group participant


Research has shown that group-based dialectical behaviour therapy can be highly efficacious, including when it’s delivered to a group facing differing mental health challenges, including diagnoses of depression and anxiety, bipolar disorder, BPD and ADHD. Group DBT has been associated with improvements in emotional regulation, reductions in depression, and increases in overall psychological well-being, as well as specific increases in DBT skills use and decreases in dysfunctional coping. In a study comparing group dialectical behaviour therapy and group positive psychotherapy among university students, the DBT group had higher attendance, lower dropout rates and better relationships between the therapist and clients, suggesting that DBT in a group setting can distinctly foster warmth and closeness among peers and the group leader. Peer-to-peer approaches in a mental health setting have also been shown to help participants develop confidence and positive beliefs about themselves, helping them to accomplish their goals when they see similar behaviour in others. In short, DBT in and of itself can be a valuable therapeutic technique, but applying it in a group can leverage all the benefits of the therapy alongside the benefits of peer support. This can help participants to not only learn and practice with their therapist, but also with one another.

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy
Image of four people engaging in conversation.


Group Dialectical Behaviour Therapy: What Comes After?


While DBT groups can be immensely helpful, they don’t last forever. What happens when group therapy ends?


For some clients, it can be challenging to move out of a skills group and continue to successfully integrate DBT skills into their daily lives without that ongoing source of support and routine. DBT provides many different skills to tackle different situations which can be overwhelming to navigate alone. Clients may simply feel that they’re not ready to step away from a therapeutic setting at the end of a 12-week DBT skills group. This experience is common, and Layla wants to address it. That’s why we’ve introduced a new DBT Advanced Skills Roundtable to support clients in their continued journey in learning and integrating DBT skills.


Layla’s DBT Advanced Skills Roundtable is designed to suit each individuals’ wellness needs. It’s a safe space where participants can continue to learn and develop their DBT skills, be accountable to their peers and maintain DBT practice as part of their regular routine. Clients in the group have access to feedback, validation and support from a trained DBT facilitator, and simultaneously stay connected with a group of peers going through a similar stage in their DBT learning process. While peer support is important, everyone’s journey is unique - that’s why clients can choose how often they’d like to attend drop-in sessions as well as access an extensive virtual library of helpful videos and handouts to review and practice their skills whenever they choose. The point is to offer clients all the resources they might need to reach their goals with DBT, and trusting them to tell us which ones work for them. 


To learn more DBT and other available treatments, speak to your primary care physician or mental health provider for advice specific to your personal health profile. You can also connect with a Layla Care Coordinator for more information.

Layla Resources:

- About Layla- Individuals, couples, and families use Layla for personalized, convenient therapy. Layla matches you to a suitable therapist and manage the therapy process in a warm, dependable manner, supporting you on your journey to better health. Learn more here

- New to therapy? Here's your beginner guide - Starting therapy can evoke feelings of vulnerability, but knowing what to expect can help. The journey is individualized, with no exact right or wrong way. During the first session, typically administrative matters are discussed, goals are set, and you and your therapist will get to know each other. Fit between you and you therapist is very important for your outcomes, and it's okay to switch if the fit isn't right. Therapy is adjusted to your timeline and constraints, and can range from weekly to monthly sessions. Reflecting on what you wish to accomplish can guide the process

- DBT 12 week Skills Group - Do you struggle with managing intense emotions, getting through distressing situations, or maintaining relationships? If so, the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) Skills Group may be right for you. Learn more here

- DBT Advanced Group - Have you previously learned DBT skills within a group or individual session and feel you could use some ongoing support applying DBT skills to your daily life in a way that works for you?  If so, the DBT Advanced Skills Roundtable may be the right next step for you. Learn more about our DBT Advanced Skills Roundtable here.

Disclaimer: The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and should not be considered healthcare or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult with a healthcare professional for appropriate support.