Dialectical Behavior Therapy is designed to help you better understand your feelings and emotions and free you from feeling trapped by them. Rather than simply analyzing your problem, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches specific skills that can be used in everyday life to give you greater happiness and wellbeing. So many people feel that they know what’s wrong, they just need the clarity and skills to work with the issues. DBT empowers you to do just that, with the ongoing support of a therapist’s guidance.
The skills learned in DBT fall under four umbrellas – Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and Emotion Regulation. Here we look at three skills you can learn in Dialectical Behavior Therapy and that you can use right now to bring real change to your life.
Identify and Label
Mindfulness is the ability to know and be aware of what is going on around you and within you. With the distractions and busy-ness of modern life, this is not as easy as it sounds. Consciously and intentionally bringing awareness to ourselves and our environment is the first step to building our mindfulness muscle.
When we are beginners, one of the most effective ways to do this is through meditation or a mindful activity like slow walking. Meditation does not have to be complicated. Placing your attention on three breaths as you inhale and exhale can reap benefits. (Remember, when your mind wanders, as minds do, gently bring your attention back to your breath. Do this as many times as is needed during those three inhalations and exhalations.) As you do these mindful activities, notice what you feel, physically and internally, and identify these qualities by giving them a name, like ‘step,’ ‘breath in,’ ‘breath out’; or even ‘anger,’ ‘worry,’ and ‘self-criticism.’ As you become more skilled at doing this, you can extend it to everyday situations, like driving to work, being in a meeting or having an argument. Simply knowing and recognizing what is going on is a powerful tool to allow you to begin making changes.
Accept Things As They Are (even if you want them to change)
Once you’ve learned to recognize and understand what is going on inside and around you, it is easier to work with these feelings. In some cases, you may identify things you can change. For example, every time you walk past the bakery, you notice a craving for cookies, so you can choose not to take that route anymore. To make that decision to change your course, you had to be aware that this caused a craving in you and accept this reality. If you spent effort pushing away and denying that this craving was a problem for you, or you were not aware this desire increased when you passed the bakery, you would not have been able to apply the solution of walking a different route.
Working skillfully with our feelings is also about recognizing what we can’t change, and accepting rather than fighting against them. One way to do this is to cope with a distressing moment by having a one-mindful focus. Learning to focus on one point, like your breath, a candle or flower, or sounds, can draw your attention to this one-pointed focus and give you time to calm down. Your Dialectical Behavior Therapist can work with you to develop a range of different coping skills to help you walk through difficult moments that will inevitably arise.
Taking Care of Yourself to Regulate Emotions
When you feel angry, hurt, or another painful emotion, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. You might even feel like your emotions are out of control. Fortunately, Dialectical Behavior Therapy can teach you how to manage emotions, so you feel more in the driver’s seat of your experience. A first step you can take, even before feeling a painful emotion, is to manage your vulnerability factors.
Eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, resting and taking time off when you need it can all help. By taking care of your body and health needs, you are making yourself more resilient to challenging situations. Imagine being cut off in traffic when you are well-rested, have had enough nutritious food to eat, are wearing comfortable clothing and had a nice walk out in the sun earlier that day. Someone cutting you off probably won’t have much of an impact. Now imagine someone cutting you off and you are sleep deprived, hungry and haven’t had any exercise. If you’re like most people, being cut off will have much more impact, and you will be more likely to experience intense emotions. Although life circumstances prevent us from always taking care of our bodies in an ideal way, the more we can do our best to take good care, the more emotionally resilient and better able to ride out life’s difficult moments we will be.
A skilled therapist can help you develop the DBT skills that work best for you to give you greater freedom and happiness in life. You don’t have to live each day as a struggle – talk to a therapist who uses Dialectical Behavior Therapy to learn more about these life changing skills today.