Book Review: Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook

book cover: The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook by Matthew McKay, Jeffrey C. Wood, and Jeffrey Brantley

The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook by Matthew McKay, Jeffrey C. Wood, and Jeffrey Brantley is a self-help workbook that covers the major skills involved in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).

DBT is considered the gold standard for the treatment of borderline personality disorder, but its usefulness is not limited to people with BPD.  DBT is very skills-based, and many of the skills are quite broadly applicable.

The introduction of this book indicates that it’s written both for people who are already doing DBT as well as people with no background in DBT but are struggling with overwhelming emotions.  For people who are familiar with DBT, you’ll notice that this book doesn’t make a lot of use of the common acronyms for groups of skills; for example, while ABC PLEASE is described, that acronym isn’t used.

The book takes a very matter of fact tone, and provides clear explanations.  It is very much a workbook, with written exercises interspersed frequently throughout.  The worksheets are laid out simply and easy to follow, and there are lots of thought-provoking questions.

The book is divided into four sections based on the major DBT modules: distress tolerance, mindfulness, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.  Each section is further divided into basic and advanced skills.

For each strategy, there are multiple different ideas suggested for implementation, so even if some ideas don’t work for you there are plenty of others to try.

Some highlights of what’s covered:

  • pleasurable distractions (with a 2-page list of over 100 suggestions)
  • self-soothing for each of the senses
  • radical acceptance and nonjudgmental attitude
  • describing and facing emotions, plus explanations regarding how emotions work
  • wise mind
  • how maladaptive behaviors (like cutting) can get reinforced because of short-term rewards
  • opposite action (whatever your emotional urge is telling you to do, do the opposite)
  • effective interpersonal communication skills
  • using assertiveness scripts
  • saying no

The book also talks about coping thoughts and self-affirming statements, and these are realistic – there’s no delving into rainbows and unicorns territory.

While people with borderline personality disorder would likely get the most benefit from doing formal DBT, DBT in self-help form could have a lot to offer for people with other diagnoses struggling with their emotions.  This workbook offers clear explanations and plenty of exercises for the reader to do, so I think it would be suitable for people with no knowledge of DBT.

The tone of the writing is not especially engaging, but it’s neutral and non-judgmental, even when talking about fairly charged topics like manipulative behavior.

Overall, I would say this book is a good choice if you want to give DBT a try.


The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook is available on Amazon.


You can find my other book reviews here.

book cover: Managing the Depression Puzzle: Putting the Pieces Together by Ashley L. Peterson


My newest book, Managing the Depression Puzzle, takes a holistic, everything up to and including the kitchen sink look at how to put together the pieces of your unique depression puzzle.  It’s available on Amazon and other online retailers as well as the Mental Health @ Home Store.

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37 thoughts on “Book Review: Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook

  1. Meg says:

    I love the concept of pleasurable distractions! I’m a big believer in watching sitcoms to stay upbeat and in touch with, like, the absurdities of life, so I hope they’re on the list!

    I also love the concept of articulating emotions! It can be harder than you’d think! I always try to do it, and I come up with simple emotions, like sad, mad, happy, etc. I have to try harder to be any more articulate than that!

    Sounds like a useful book!! I’m glad this therapy exists!!

  2. Johnzelle Anderson says:

    This is my go-to workbook that I use with my clients. Love the sections on radical acceptance and the big list of pleasurable activities.

  3. Anja Burcak says:

    Thanks for sharing! I got the bipolar disorder version of this book. Definitely found parts of it helpful! I can easily see how such skills can help many people (not just those with BPD).

  4. wediditptsd says:

    Very neutral tone in this book. Very skills-oriented. A new PTSD version came out last year. One of our Ts is test-driving it for us. The book as reviewed has some benefit for us, and it lacks life-connecting energy. It’s hard to “to-do list” us to safety and healing. Still, it’s more likely to help some than hurt at all. We used it last week. And then put it at the bottom of the resource pile again.

    Do you use it?

      • wediditptsd says:

        We wonder if you’d dislike nonviolent Communication. It’s interesting because its creator (marshall Rosenberg) rails against “New age bullshit,” and NVC can seem “out there” because its goals are so lofty. He’s very human, though. In ways DBT is not for us

        • ashleyleia says:

          I don’t know much about nonviolent communication, although looking at the 4-part NVC process I see a fair bit of overlap with things that are covered in DBT.

  5. amymayj says:

    Thanks for sharing – DBT is one area of therapy I don’t know much about, but I really like the sound of some of the techniques this book mentions. Sounds like it’s worth a read! x

  6. Jamie says:

    Thank you Ashley. I don’t know much about DBT but if I can learn something from it I’ll add it too my list of too get books. Thanks for sharing

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