What Is DBT Behavior Chain Analysis? (7 Important Steps)

A chain

Have you ever had an unhealthy or even toxic behavior that you wanted to get rid of or stop doing?

Maybe you have realized that your actions and the way you react to certain situations aren’t healthy or have the potential, or are currently, hurting the people around you.

Behavior chain analysis is a process that helps people stop toxic behaviors, by exploring and understanding what leads to them in the first place. It is an important technique that is used in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).

Why is it called behavior chain analysis?

It is called a behavior chain analysis because each step or part in the chain is connected to the next link, and then the next, until it forms a chain.

When you participate in behavior chain analysis you discover all the links in the chain that caused the problem behavior.

The theory is that by exploring these chains, it will help you stop these bad behaviors.

Who should try behavior chain analysis?

Anyone can try it if they have a behavior that they would like to change.

Behavior chain analysis is useful as a self-help strategy during self-reflection, and it is also something that some people use in therapy during DBT.

However, behavior chain analysis is useful for specific symptoms of mental health conditions. One example of this is there is research that shows it can be useful for symptoms of schizophrenia.

How to perform a behavior chain analysis

1) Decide on the problem behavior that you want to change

Maybe you get angry and lash out at other people when it isn’t their fault. Maybe you stress eat. Or fight with your significant other.

Whatever the behavior is, it is important to be honest with yourself or else this won’t work.

2) Explore what event happened that triggered the start of the chain

Look at what was happening to you, and around you to trigger the bad behavior. Examine what you were thinking and feeling right before the urge to participate in the bad behavior happened.

For example, let’s say my bad behavior is snapping at my stepson when I get home from work.

I would need to examine what happened right before I snapped: I put my lunch kit away and noticed a sink full of dirty dishes that I had asked my stepson to clean the night before.

3) Figure out what made you feel vulnerable in that moment

Bad behavior usually stems from us feeling vulnerable. It is a defense mechanism that we use to protect ourselves with.

You should spend time exploring what made you vulnerable at that moment.

Did you have a bad day at work?

Have you had trouble sleeping?

Are you experiencing overwhelm or burnout?

4) Explore what happens in the moment

Next, you need to explore exactly what is happening in that moment that the bad behavior happens.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What were your actions?
  • What actions followed?
  • What did your body feel like?
  • What were you thinking?
  • What were you feeling?

5) Figure out the consequences of your actions

What were the consequences of the bad behavior? There has to be some in order for you to want to change the behavior.

Did the behavior cause any harm to you or other people? How?

6) Brainstorm solutions

The next thing to do is to think of solutions that can replace some of the things that happened.

What could you have done differently at each point of the event? Are there any healthy coping skills that you could have used instead? Is there something that would help to reduce the vulnerability you were feeling?

7) Put it all together

Now that you know what triggered your behavior, including what you were feeling before and after, and confronted how your behavior harms yourself and/or others, you can decide what coping skills or healthy actions you can use to replace those bad behaviors.

This essentially helps you to break the chain once and for all.

Final thoughts…

While behavior chain analysis is something you can do alone, or with someone you trust, if you find you are really struggling it would be wise to seek out a mental health professional for help.

Behavior chain analysis is meant to help you identify bad behaviors and look for solutions for positive change.

However, there is nothing shameful about needing some extra help and support sometimes.

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