DBT works because....

Updated: Jun 4


It has been a little more than a year since I began offering DBT at my studio. Occasionally my clients tell me why they stick with DBT in most intuitive ways.


“Get the head above water”(distress tolerance)


Being in crises feels like being drawn in fierce whirlpool. You are struggling for air, and the more you do, the deeper down you are sucked in. No problem-solving skills work. You have no space in your head to think why you got to where you are in the first place. You first have to survive the crises before you can think about anything else. DBT understands this and teaches skills to set an intention to wait for the whirlpool to go. A client said the idea that it's OK not to be able to solve the life’s problems right then was a relief.


“Describe less” (mindfulness)


We tend to jump to conclusion about everything and everyone around us. We have names for everything, and sometimes we get fooled by the very names that we give. For example, when we are really sad, we may feel angry. Once we think we are angry, we act angry. Or we have some preconceived idea about something, and we stay in that idea without giving the benefit of the doubt. Mindfulness skills teach to observe everything more attentively without trying to fit them into the names and concepts that we already have. A client said that learning to stop explaining everything rationally was the greatest gift from DBT. It is OK just to notice it. He says when we stop putting the name to everything, we become a little less judgmental.


“Invisible thoughts are missing from the chain” (emotion regulation)


“What are the facts?” DBT askes, and that means facts without additional meaning attached to them. “Do you think that everything is happening only in my head?” you may feel. Even then, we do meticulous chain analysis to identify what behaviors were observable, and what thoughts triggered emotions. Sometimes it surprises us that we weren’t even aware of our own thoughts and emotions in the middle of a fight. A client said, on the other hand, that the chain made her be aware that her partner’s thoughts must be also at play when she didn’t understand his reaction. She used to fight without considering his thoughts that were not visible to her. DBT gives ample practice of chain analysis to step back and re-examine the situation and ask what we are missing in our understanding of the event. This enables us to ask the right questions at the right time.


“Remembering I don’t want to break up was enough to make a difference” (interpersonal effectiveness)


“How did the fight start?” “What did you want from the interaction?” Answers to these questions are often, “something so small that I don’t even remember” and “I don’t know anymore.” Then, the next question that DBT asks is whether you wanted to start, improve, or end the relationship. It is less likely that one would say that they wanted to end the relationship. And of course, you usually want to improve the relationship. Yet that original intention gets muddled by wanting the other person to understand us by all means. A client said, “I push push and push my point of view, to the point that he disengages from the conversation. That is the opposite of what I want.” DBT skills teach having clear intention (one purpose) when we start a conversation. This client said that being conscious that she didn’t mean to break up made small differences here and there.


Not all the skills are for everyone. DBT is to find what works for each of us. I hope you find the way to make DBT works for you, too.

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