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How to use your DBT diary card printable: free worksheets

Over the last few years I have been on a huge journey of discovery about myself and the reason I do things, or want to do things. I’m curious about why we decide to implement new behaviours or habits into our lives but then fail to implement them.

I first came across DBT when I was looking for more information on CBT (Cognitive behaviour therapy). I didn’t know what DBT was but reading about it interested me immediately. DBT is similar to CBT but distinct from it too.

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What is DBT?

DBT, which stands for Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, is a comprehensive and evidence-based form of psychotherapy that combines elements of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) with concepts from dialectics. It was originally developed by psychologist Marsha M. Linehan in the late 1980s as a treatment for individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) who were experiencing high levels of emotional dysregulation and engaging in self-destructive behaviours.

I started being interested in CBT because of this aspect of emotional dysregulation.. 

Comparing DBT to CBT, this is a description of CBT

What is CBT?

CBT stands for Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, which is a widely used form of psychotherapy that focuses on the connection between thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. It is a goal-oriented and evidence-based approach that aims to help individuals identify and modify unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours to improve their emotional well-being and functioning.

So, in short form summary, here are the main differences between DBT and CBT:

3 main differences between DBT and CBT

1. Target Population

DBT was developed for individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD), whereas CBT is a broader therapy applicable to various mental health conditions.

2. Emphasis

DBT emphasizes acceptance, balancing acceptance with change, and distress tolerance, while CBT focuses on identifying and modifying negative thoughts and behaviours.

3. Therapeutic Structure

DBT includes multiple components like individual therapy, group skills training, phone coaching, and consultation teams, whereas CBT can be delivered in individual or group therapy formats without additional components.

These differences highlight how DBT and CBT differ in their focus, techniques, and structure, catering to distinct populations and addressing specific therapeutic goals.

It should be stated that DBT generally/most often requires a therapist to lead the process. This blog post is not a ‘How to do DBT yourself’ kind of post. It’s intended as an introduction to DBT for people who, like me, didn’t know it existed.

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What follows will be useful pointers on how DBT can be used in our every day lives. After that will be links to sample diary pages to show you how the information is laid out so that a person can track their thought and behaviour processing.

I have written two other blog posts on DBT that are complementary to this one. They are:

How to use DBT: DBT model of emotions worksheet and

DBT Stop skill worksheet: skills to regulate your emotions

Pointers as to how DBT can be used in our every day lives

  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) can be applied in our everyday lives by using DBT skills to manage difficult situations and complex emotion struggles.
  • Distress tolerance skills, a part of DBT, help individuals cope with distressing events and emotions, such as using urge surfing and radical acceptance.
  • DBT focuses on target behaviours and provides powerful tools like DBT worksheets, diary cards (available in PDF format), and informational handouts for individuals to track their progress and work on their interpersonal effectiveness.
  • The aim of DBT, developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan, is to address mental illnesses and promote emotional regulation and healthier behaviour patterns.
  • DBT can be utilized through various means, including individual and group therapy sessions, mobile applications for DBT self-help, and one-on-one sessions with a DBT therapist.
  • Good news is that DBT has been supported by behavioural research and is widely used by mental health professionals to support clients’ needs and improve their well-being.
  • Therapy clinics offer DBT programs that provide a step-by-step guide to help individuals manage negative emotions, develop emotion regulation skills, and learn how to respond in a healthy way to toxic behaviour.
  • DBT sessions, whether individual or group therapy, create a safe and confidential space to address personal challenges and explore one’s own response to difficult feelings.
  • Therapy clinics and online resources offer useful tools, such as downloadable DBT worksheets and PDF documents, which can be accessed for free to aid in practicing DBT techniques and interventions.
  • Dr. Linehan’s Dear Man technique is an example of a partially completed diary card that can be used to improve interpersonal communication and achieve desired outcomes.
  • Weekly sessions and the use of DBT skills in everyday life contribute to long-term progress in managing mental health difficulties and improving overall well-being.

DBT diary cards

Diary cards are powerful tools utilized in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) to aid individuals, particularly those with Borderline Personality Disorder, in tracking their emotions, behaviours, and progress. 

These cards provide a structured format for recording DBT skills and monitoring distress tolerance skills, as well as noting significant events and emotional reactions. 
By using diary cards, individuals can identify target behaviours and gain insight into their emotional struggles in various situations. 

In DBT therapy, therapists, DBT coaches, or group members can support clients in analysing diary card data to guide interventions and address the specific needs of clients. 

With a focus on promoting emotional regulation and managing mental illnesses, DBT programs often incorporate weekly sessions and individual or group therapy, providing a supportive environment for exploring and improving interpersonal effectiveness.

Diary cards can be utilized in therapy clinics or in self-help settings, whether in one-to-one sessions or through DBT self-help resources, such as downloadable materials available for free, even on mobile devices. 

By using diary cards to track emotions and behaviours in a systematic manner, individuals have a valuable tool to monitor their progress and identify areas for growth in a step-by-step guide.

Once again I just want to reiterate that I am not suggesting that you treat yourself or use these cards as a means of self therapy. How I found them really useful was to view how a therapist could help me with things like emotional dysregulation and how it could be tracked. 

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Here are some online organisations who provide downloadable/viewable diary cards.

DBT self help 

Beaches therapy 

This is a useful link to a distress tolerance worksheet from Therapist Aid. I love the idea of self-soothing with senses. There is more on self-soothing via Dialectical Behaviour Therapy here. 

I found this a useful website to see someone who has experienced the effectiveness of DBT in her own life

And finally, from Positive Psychology, worksheets and DBT Skills

I hope you find this blog post useful and maybe even revelatory. I can’t recommend that you do this work on your own, but for myself I have found reading about DBT and how I can use it in my own life really useful and hope that you do too.

Other blog posts you might like on managing your emotions:

How to use affirmations to release negative energy

Journaling prompts for depression and strategies to cope better

How to use printable Wellness Recover Action Plan (WRAP) worksheets

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