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About DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills

Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a treatment primarily designed to assist individuals who struggle with regulating emotions. These individuals experience intense and long-lasting emotions across a range of situations, and struggle to reduce the intensity and manage behavioural impulses. This can be extraordinarily distressing for the individuals concerned, and can also cause problems in their interpersonal relationships, which may be intense and chaotic. Due to lack of learning opportunities and frequent emotional over-arousal, people with emotion dysregulation may utilize ineffective or extreme interpersonal behaviours, struggle to end relationships and establish new ones, and have difficulty balancing their own needs with those of others. Saying no, asking for help and getting opinions heard are often particularly difficult.

The Interpersonal Effectiveness module in DBT addresses these skills areas, with three sets of interpersonal skills; skills for getting one’s objectives met while enhancing both the relationship with the other person and one’s own self-esteem; skills for building relationships and ending destructive ones; and skills for walking the middle path, validating and balancing each person’s needs and priorities.

Interpersonal Effectiveness at work

In many interpersonal situations there are three main priorities to consider; getting objectives met, creating and maintaining a positive relationship, and maintaining or increasing self-respect.   The DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness module teaches participants skills for each of these priorities as well as how to clarify their priorities in a range of different kinds of situations, so that the appropriate skills are used.


Consider the following: Carol’s boss asks her to stay after work to complete a report but she has tickets for a concert featuring her favourite band that night. Her objective is to go to the concert. The relationship consideration is maintaining her boss’s positive regard, and the self-respect consideration is balancing her own wants with other demands. In this situation Carol decides that her priority is going to the concert, getting her objective met. If however the boss had asked on an evening when Carol had no specific plans she may have decided that maintaining or improving her relationship with her boss was her priority and she would have stayed on after work. A third possible scenario is if the boss very frequently asked Carol to stay back after work - in this scenario Carol may decide that the self-respect aspect is her priority (not always putting her own needs last) and say no to staying back.


In addition to working out priorities in interpersonal situations, the DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness module provides guidance concerning how intensely to ask or say no. Commonly people with interpersonal difficulties vacillate between always saying yes to requests and never saying yes, and between never asking for help and asking too often. These vacillations can be partly or completely unrelated to the situations at hand, and so contribute to confusion and disruption in the relationship. Being able to consider the appropriateness of strong or weak asking or refusing based on the actual circumstances of the interaction is clearly an important skill.

Good interpersonal skills are so important in our overall adjustment and in our ability to build a life for ourselves that enhances our mental health. If you or someone close to you struggles with emotion dysregulation and disrupted relationships I encourage you to contact Bridget Hogg Psychology Brisbane so that we can discuss whether Dialectical Behaviour Therapy DBT  would be an appropriate treatment.

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