Chain Analysis in DBT: Examining the Factors Behind Suicidal Behaviors

DBT Centre of Vancouver, Inc.

Key Points

  1. Chain analysis involves examining the immediate context of the behavior and identifying vulnerability factors such as physical and emotional states (illness, hangovers, sleep deprivation, malnutrition) that may contribute to the behavior.
  2. In Sophia’s case, it involved examining how her partner’s words triggered suicidal urges and the thoughts and physical symptoms that followed.
  3. Chain analysis guides the development of intervention strategies. For Sophia, these strategies included challenging and reframing her negative thoughts, teaching relaxation techniques to manage distress, reducing access to means (medications), and addressing substance use.
Earn 1 CE Credits

Chain analysis is a detailed assessment used in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) to understand specific behaviors. It involves closely examining situations that lead to problematic behaviors, such as suicidal actions. The goal is to identify contributing factors and develop more effective interventions.

Sophia’s Chain Analysis

Context, Initial Inquiry, and Vulnerabilities

In the case of Sophia, chain analysis was applied to understand why she ingested pills following a breakup. The analysis began by exploring the immediate context of her behavior and identifying any vulnerability factors that might have made her more susceptible to engaging in self-harm. These factors include physical and emotional states like illness, hangovers, sleep deprivation, or malnutrition.

Identifying Links and Consequences

The chain analysis examines the sequential links leading up to the problematic behavior. In Sophia’s case, this included the emotional and physical responses to her partner’s words, leading to increased suicidal urges. Her thoughts of never finding another partner and fear of being alone contributed significantly to her distress. Additionally, intense fear and physical symptoms like hyperventilation, increased heart rate, and nausea were noted.

Sophia’s actions following these feelings were then analyzed. She isolated herself, consumed alcohol, and eventually took the stockpiled pills. Understanding these actions is crucial for developing intervention strategies.

Intervention Strategies

The chain analysis guides the development of intervention strategies. For Sophia, these included:

  1. Addressing cognitions:
    • Challenging and reframing her thoughts about relationships and loneliness.
  2. Teaching relaxation strategies:
    • Employing DBT skills to manage intense distress.
  3. Removing access to means:
    • Safeguarding by reducing access to medications and seeking a commitment to this plan.
  4. Addressing substance use:
    • Targeting her alcohol consumption as a precursor to the suicide attempt.

Chain analysis in DBT is vital for understanding the factors leading to suicidal behaviors. In Sophia’s case, it revealed a complex interplay of thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and behaviors. The interventions focused on cognitive restructuring, distress tolerance, reducing access to means, and addressing substance use.

Looking for practical everyday tools? This print-friendly handout is just what you need. Click on the following link to download the PDF:

Decoding Behavior: Chain Analysis in DBT for Suicidal Tendencies

This handout introduces therapists to the practice of chain analysis in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), with a specific focus on understanding and addressing suicidal behaviors. Chain analysis is a detailed method for dissecting particular actions, particularly in the context of self-harm or suicidal tendencies. It involves a comprehensive examination of the events and emotional, cognitive, and physical responses leading up to a client’s problematic behavior. The aim is to identify contributing factors and vulnerability aspects, such as emotional states or environmental triggers, that precipitate these actions. Therapists can develop nuanced and effective intervention strategies by meticulously tracing these sequential events and their interconnected links. This method is crucial for gaining a deeper understanding of the complexities behind suicidal behaviors, enabling therapists to create tailored responses for their clients.


This handout serves as an introduction for therapists regarding chain analysis within dialectical behavior therapy, particularly for understanding behaviors related to suicide. After familiarizing yourself with the technique, you may begin by evaluating the immediate context of the behavior and identifying any vulnerability factors such as emotional or physical states. Progress through the analysis by examining the sequential events and responses, both emotional and physical, that led to the problematic behavior. Use the insights gained to develop specific intervention strategies, including cognitive reframing, distress tolerance skills, means restriction, and addressing related issues like substance use. This approach is crucial for creating a comprehensive understanding of the factors contributing to suicidal behaviors and for devising effective, tailored interventions that address the client’s unique circumstances and needs.

Free downloads

Download Video/PDF

Chain Analysis in DBT: Examining the Factors Behind Suicidal Behaviors