What is DBT?
With a motto of “Build A Life Worth Living”, DBT can sound pretty intense. So, what does it actually do?
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is all about learning specific skills, investing your time and energy into practicing them, and literally seeing the positive change happen in real time. When a person engages with DBT, it’s like learning a new language. They learn how to speak to others to build healthy relationships and have their needs met, while finding the peace in appropriate compromises. They learn how to speak to themselves to regulate their emotions and treat themselves with respect to move out of shame spiraling or burnout. At it’s core, DBT is built on mindfulness. Without first engaging with mindfulness, we won’t be able to catch the thoughts and emotions that are causing us suffering in the first place.
Try it with me for a moment… place a hand on your chest. Notice the heaviness. Taking a deep breath, focus on the rise and fall of your hand on your chest. Continue to do that, noticing how frequently your brain tries to move on to the next thought. Practicing mindfulness only requires that you do one thing at a time, and then pulling your mind back to whatever that thing is, over and over. It’s like building muscle – repetition makes it easier.
With DBT, we pinpoint the behaviors we engage in that we don’t like or approve of. Behaviors like mindlessly scrolling on social media, spiraling into our anxious thoughts, or even engaging with addictions all have a root cause that, with DBT, we can figure out and manage, then head off before it even begins.
As with other mental health interventions, it is small change that will happen at first. There is no magic pill for mental health, nor a quick fix for years of ingrained thoughts and behaviors. Oftentimes, we’ve been doing the same behaviors for years, or even since childhood, as we try to keep ourselves safe.
But small changes have a BIG impact. Even knowing there are other options to deal with uncomfortable emotions or scary thoughts can be a comfort. Every time we choose to listen to our anger rather than react to others in anger, we are moving towards knowing ourselves better and engaging with the world in a way that is healthy. When we begin to challenge our anxious thoughts and poke some holes in the assumptions that have no basis in reality, we are retraining our minds to look for safety as well as keep an eye out for danger.
DBT contains skills that are valuable for every human. I often say if we could have DBT classes in all elementary schools, we’d have a far more healthy society where dialogues are possible and emotions aren’t scary. Mindfulness, building healthy relationships, regulating emotions, and managing times of crisis are skills that build a more stable and fulfilling life.
- Facilitator of DBT Skills Groups
- Mindfulness Advocate
- General Emotion Enthusiast
*DBT was created by Marsha Linehan, a psychologist who had her own personal experience with mental illness. Read more here.