DBT Overview

by Kathryn Fenster, SDSU Graduate Student

Have you ever had hard time relating to loved ones when their emotions seem out of control? Do you ever feel at a loss as to how to connect with loved ones when they seem to behave with extreme emotions? Support systems are crucial for individual experiencing emotional difficulties, but sometimes it can feel like a difficult role to hold. On the one hand, we love the individual, believe in them, and want the best for them. But on the other hand, they can seem unreachable. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy was designed to help individuals with difficulties regulating their emotions. Luckily, we can implement some of the techniques on a daily basis to support our loved ones.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) derives from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a field of theory that emphasizes the ability to use thought patterns to manage emotions. It was originally formulated to help patients with Borderline Personality Disorder, but has been proven to be helpful for other issues such as, eating disorders, depression, bipolar depression, and anxiety. The therapy of DBT is made up of a number of components including skills training, individual therapy, and group therapy, with the goal of helping individuals to lead grounded and meaningful lives. While DBT programs exist at the clinical level, many of the skills taught in DBT can be applied to helping people around us on a daily basis.

Some basics of DBT focus on helping individuals to regulate their emotions, a way for them to “center themselves."  Some individuals experience emotions to an extreme, feeling things in a black and white sense, when in fact, the truth lies in the grey. It can be really hard to function under this type of extreme, so it is important that that person’s support system learn how to help them manage. For example, an individual may see something as being entirely helpful, or entirely not helpful. A family member or friend could help them to see that that thing can be both helpful and unhelpful at the same time. Doing so can help the individual to integrate a sort of nuance into their understanding of the concept. As support, we can help our loved ones to weigh the pros and cons of a decision or situation and make a relevant decision. This helps to avoid the “stuck” feeling that can be caused by exclusively seeing or feeling things in the extreme.

An important aspect of this centering is mindfulness. Mindfulness regards experiencing things in the present, taking note of one’s surroundings, and trying to see what is happening with objective observations. It can be like hitting a "pause button" to examine what you are thinking and feeling in that moment. A key point of mindfulness is being honest with oneself and accepting the situation. Even though your loved ones emotions and reactions might seem irrational to you, it is important to acknowledge that these feelings are real. By validating their feelings, your loved one can understand that you are “there” with them in a non-judgemental way, an important step in guiding their mindfulness. Once you and your loved one have accepted the situation, you can help them to ground themselves.

Consider two types of minds: the Reasonable Mind and the Emotional Mind. The Reasonable Mind likes logic, it helps to plan events, organize information, and think rationally. The Emotional Mind distorts facts and regards emotive events. It is responsible for things such as losing one’s temper, snuggling with puppies, or doing things just for fun. Both minds are helpful and important for living a meaningful life. However, if we just use one of them, we find ourselves missing out on important pieces of ourselves, and of the truth. Here enters a third mind, the Wise Mind. The Wise Mind is the center, it integrates the Emotional and Reasonable Minds. The Wise Mind helps us make decisions that make sense and feel “right” at the same time. As part of our loved ones’ support system, we can help them center into the Wise Mind. We can help them to evaluate the present situation and then to use the appropriate portions of each side to make decisions.

Supporting loved ones who experience extreme emotions can be both rewarding and tiring. We know and value them, but sometimes feel helpless. However, using some basics of DBT such as non-judgmental acceptance and mindfulness can go a long way.

Interested in learning more? Check out https://behavioraltech.org/ , a website founded by the inventor of DBT, Marsha Linehan.



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