Best DBT Apps

Tuesday, 17 Nov 2015 @ 5:36 PM. By Elizabeth Han.


While the automatic thought record in CBT can be easily imagined translated to an app, the principles of DBT are more complex. Emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, mindfulness, distress tolerance — each of these should really be app by themselves. So that’s how I approached this list.

1. Breathe

Free, additional meditations available for purchase
1-30Breathe is one of my favourite apps for mindfulness meditation. The bright, cartoonish user interface is cheering on a bad day. It offers a number of wonderful meditations, none very long. There is an option on the home screen to check in with your mood and physical condition today, after which the app suggests a few meditations it feels will be most helpful. Just that little bit of interaction made me feel extra engaged and like I was doing something worthwhile and customized for me.

I think the app understands very well that meditation is hard work and makes the process of getting into a space much easier.

Pros: Stunning UI, detailed tutorials about meditation, progress tracking, mood check-in
Cons: Intense users may need to look elsewhere for additional meditations

2. Pacifica

Free, $3.99 for all features

grid-cell-22601-1428009725-39 I’ve mentioned Pacifica before on the blog and recommended it primarily as a CBT app. However, I want to highlight that one of its most stunning features is a collection of animated meditations.

The image on the left is a capture from the progressive muscle relaxation module. Highlighted areas of the body show where you should be tensing and then relaxing, slowly progressing up to the head. At the same time, the sound of breath in and out, the cycle time of which you can set (e.g., 10s, 15s, 20s), guides you with paced breathing. Unfortunately, this is now a paid feature, but it’s definitely worth the money.

Pros: Gorgeous visuals and sound
Cons: Paid

3. DBT Skill Cards

Free, some paid features

screen568x568I was on the fence about this app at first. The UI is a bit cluttered, throwing me off. However, the content, once you get into it, is superb.

You do have to know what a DBT Diary Card is, first of all. Click here for a sample card. These diary cards are a way of keeping track of your moods, urges, and whether or not you worked on the specific skills that are taught in a formal course of DBT — and if not, what stopped you from practicing. Because there are literally dozens of DBT skills outlined in Marsha Linehan’s text, this app is a great way of automating going through all of them.

After beginning a card, you are asked about each skill. If you don’t know what a skill is, a button in the upper right hand corner will bring up a dialog with a brief description and an option to view an example. The app also provides summaries of your cards.

Pros: Free, goes through all the DBT skills in detail with nice examples
Cons: Messy interface

4. iPromptU


screen568x568 (1) iPromptU, developed by the University of Albuquerque, brands itself foremost as a cognitive behavioural therapy app. But its default 5-question approach to problem-solving is very applicable to DBT. It asks you what urges you have at that moment, what are the positive consequences of carrying that out, the negative consequences, and the degree to which this action is a workable one in your life. For me, that’s what DBT’s “Ask Wise Mind” concept — that is, consulting a mind that is a mix between emotional and rational mind — is all about. Sad and angry feelings and urges are normal; it’s what you do about them that counts.

For advanced users, the questions can be customized to any that you wish. I suggest that if you do use this app you stay with the defaults, however, at least until you get a feel for “wise mind”. Also customizable are prompts to complete the record and a submission email of the results (to yourself or your therapist).

Pros: Free, simple, customizable questions and alerts, easy to email results
Cons: No explanation of DBT, results displayed in text form (no graphs or visuals)

5. Pen and Paper

Free. Always.

There is definitely something about writing that makes things stick. The biggest problem I find with a paper record is that individual pages get lost. What everyone needs is a dedicated hardback notebook for thought records and any other therapy work. It’s a symbolic investment in getting better. A safe place you can return to again and again.

Pros: Free, customizable
Cons: No visuals, no reminders, strong initiative required