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Christy Matta, M.A.Christy Matta, M.A.
A Blog on Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Mindfulness and Stress Reduction

DBT-Family Skills Training: A Treatment Model for Families and Relatives of People with BPD

Christy Matta, M.A. Updated: Feb 16th 2011

Family therapy has gained importance over the past 30 years and for many with a diagnosis of a mental illness has become an essential aspect of treatment. Family therapies have been designed for use with relatives of people with specific diagnosis. These treatments recognize both the individuals psychiatric disorder, as well as the context in which is occurs.

couple fightingFamily interventions for people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and their relatives have begun to show some success. In particular, family treatments are emerging that are consistent with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). In an article published in Family Process (1999), Hoffman, Fruzetti and Swenson describe DBT Family treatment.

A diagnosis of Borderline Personality disorder is characterized by emotional instability, impulse control problems and severe interpersonal difficulties In addition, research has found that people with BPD were often raised in families with psychopathology and problematic interactions that may play a role in the development of the diagnosis. Family interventions, then, seem logical, with the potential to alter a negative environment and improve the functioning of the individual diagnosed with BPD.

According to the article, the aim of the treatment is to "1) provide all family members an understanding of borderline behavioral patterns in a clear, nonjudgmental way; 2) enhance the contributions of all family members to a mutually validating environment; and 3) address all family members' emotion regulation and interpersonal skills deficits."

DBT family treatments include interventions multi-family skills training. This is similar to skills training in individual DBT, but it includes family members and targets the family environment.

Hoffman, Fruzetti and Swenson describe an adaptation of DBT called Dialectical Behavior Therapy-Family Skills Training (DBT-FST). This intervention is structured around the acceptance and change strategies that are central to DBT. DBT-FST improves family functioning by "

A diagnosis of Borderline Personality disorder is characterized by emotional instability, impulse control problems and severe interpersonal difficultites. is to Recently, clinicians have begun to develop treatments for family members affected by "1) presenting the biosocial model to patients and family members in a nonblaming manner," "2) offering support and education to family members in the form of teaching DBT skills; and 3) reinforcing skillful behavior" though empathy and validation in the family. The target is to shift both the individual and the family into a non-blaming and non-judgmental pattern of interactions.

If you're interested in more details about DBT-FST, you can follow this link to the article describing the treatment. Dialectical Behavior Therapy: Family Skills Training.


Christy Matta, M.A.

Christy Matta M.A. is a trainer, consultant and writer. She is the author of “The Stress Response: How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Can Free You from Needless Anxiety, Worry, Anger, and Other Symptoms of Stress.” She is intensively trained in DBT and has designed and provided clinical supervision to treatment programs, including a winner of the American Psychiatric Association Gold Award. Matta has a Master of Arts in counseling psychology from Boston College. For more on her consultation and trainings visit her web site For more tips and mindfulness tips and strategies visit her blog

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