What is Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy (RO DBT)

Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy (RO DBT) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy developed by Dr. Thomas R. Lynch for disorders of emotional overcontrol. RO DBT is a transdiagnostic treatment indicated for patients with diagnoses of chronic depression, treatment-resistant anxiety disorders, anorexia nervosa, autism spectrum disorders, and avoidant, paranoid and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders.

How is RO DBT different from other psychotherapies?

RO DBT differs from other psychotherapies in several ways, but the most fundamental distinctions between RO DBT and all other treatments is that RO DBT is the first treatment to prioritize social-signaling as the primary mechanism of change. This is based on research showing that overcontrolled individuals have a heightened bio-temperamental threat sensitivity that makes it more difficult for them to enter into their neurobiologically based social-safety system. When individuals feel safe, they naturally experience a desire to explore and flexibly communicate with others. To address this difficulty, RO DBT teaches clients how to express emotions in a context-appropriate way and to use non-verbal social-signaling strategies to enhance social connectedness. It also teaches skills that activate areas of the brain associated with the social-safety system. Finally, radical openness involves skills for actively seeking one’s “personal unknown” in order to learn from a constantly changing environment.

How is RO DBT different from standard DBT?

Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy and standard Dialectical Behavior Therapy share a similar name because they both emphasize their common roots in dialectics and behavior therapy. Although they share this common ancestry, they differ in several substantive ways. Understanding their differences is important because the similarities in their names can lead to the misperception that they are substantially alike or even the same treatment. Some of the key differences between RO DBT and standard DBT include:



Target population Emotionally overcontrolled patient populations, such as anorexia nervosa, chronic depression, and obsessive compulsive personality disorder Emotionally undercontrolled patient populations, such as borderline personality disorder, substance misuse, or bipolar disorder 
Primary treatment targets Social signaling deficits, low openness, and interpersonal aloofness Emotional dysregulation and poor impulse control
Role of bio-temperament Emphasizes how bio-temperament influences perceptual and regulatory biases that clients bring into social situations and addresses these directly Bio-temperament not directly addressed or focused on in standard DBT
Mindfulness practices Informed by Malamati Sufism Informed by Zen Buddhism
Therapeutic stance Less directive, encourages independence of action and thought Uses external contingencies, including mild aversives, and takes a direct stance in order to stop dangerous, impulsive behavior
Radical Acceptance vs Radical openness Radical Openness is actively seeking the things one wants to avoid in order to learn—challenging our perceptions of reality, modelling humility, and a willingness to learn. Radical Acceptance is “letting go of fighting reality.” 

Several other differences between RO DBT and standard DBT exist and are well-articulated here


Is RO DBT effective?

The evidence base for RO DBT is robust and growing. The RO DBT Research website which can be found here, is comprehensive and lists the most up-to-date research. As of summer, 2017  most research support is for the treatment of chronic depression and anorexia nervosa. 


Additional resources

To learn more about RO DBT, please visit http://www.radicallyopen.net/.

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